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19th of Nightal - Elric & Ashara - Impresk

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19th of Nightal - Elric & Ashara - Impresk

Post  Penelope on Fri Oct 30, 2009 12:02 am

The following takes place the evening of the 19th of Nightal.

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Who would have thought that an old tower shield could also serve as an impromptu sled for a minotaur!? Earlier that afternoon, Kaber, Gwilly, Elric and Ashara had taken advantage of the freshly fallen snow in the aptly named Snowflake Mountains. It was not the Champions' first expedition to the infamous sledding site, but it was the first time Kaber had gone with them, and by all accounts it had been a rousing success! She'd never seen Kaber unable to wipe a grin off his face before. After a few hours, the biting cold finally drove them back to town, and it was wonderful to sit down to the hot meal that had been simmering in the fireplace.

The CoRD house was still filled with the aroma of the rabbit stew they'd polished off handily, and considering everyone had eaten a second portion, the priestess was happy, though she never could get turnips to taste as delicious as her mother's... Something to work on. For some time after dinner, the four friends sat around the hearth, warming partially-frozen appendages, and chatting pleasantly about nothing of any consequence. It was marvelous to be away from the dusty tomes she'd surrounded herself with the past fourteen days. She much preferred to instead surround herself with most of those companions whom she loved so dearly. Therogeon still stayed on in Waterdeep, and Eddick was working diligently at his grove. The work continued, but in this place at this time there was no stress, no anxiety, no fear, just friendship.

It was shortly after dark when Kaber excused himself. The minotaur didn't pay much mind to the freezing weather, and since he preferred to stay out of doors, he'd been alternating nights between the house and his cave in the mountains. Tonight was apparently a cave night. Gwilly didn't stay much longer herself. She was learning the fine art of cheese making, and after agreeing not to tip any cows, Farmer Plowsher consented to let her use his equipment in the evenings to hone her skill.

Alone with Elric, Ashara lifted the teapot off the bed of coals and tossed another log into the hearth, before filling two mugs with the boiling water. Three bunches of dried herbs hung on the wall to the left of the fireplace, and after a brief hesitation she settled on the chamomile. Hopefully the herbal tea would take the edge off of the muscle aches they were sure to feel, after hurtling down the mountain. At least no one had shattered any arms this time! The priestess pulled off some of the flowers, and placed them onto squares of gauze, tying them into two neat bundles. She dropped the bundles into the cups to steep, and moved back over to the couch, taking her place next to the warrior. "Do you think there's ever before been a minotaur that's gone sledding?" She grinned as she passed over one of the mugs and curled up against him. "I have GOT to sketch a picture of Gwilly trying to steer Kaber by the horns! I'm fairly certain I pulled something from laughing so hard..." Ashara chuckled at the visual while blowing into her steaming tea.

It had been nearly a month and a half since they left Dagadar, and for the most part, the awkwardness of their new relationship had faded away. After coming home from this last trip to the big city, she was surprised to find Elric waiting for her at the pine tree when she jumped through, and happily, it seemed that he had returned to his usual good spirits.
------------------------
"Something about the way we had to explain it to him... Sooo many times, I doubt it." Elric laughed with her. "He just didn't seem to grasp the concept of the entire purpose of sledding was to hang on tight, and try not to break anything!" He tried to take a drink of his tea, but found it was still a bit too hot. "I keep wanting to ask what his people do for fun, but honestly... I'm a little afraid of the answer. It was nice to see him enjoy himself though." He thought about the pictures she had shown him in Zazesspur. "When you get that picture done, I think it needs to be hung on the wall. The looks on their faces... Priceless!"

It was nice sitting there, just the two of them. Peaceful. The last couple of weeks had been rather lonely for the half-elf. That thought surprised him. Back in Evereska, he'd spent most of his time on solitary pursuits. Amazing how quickly he'd gotten used to people being around.

"How was your trip to Waterdeep? Did you get everything you needed there, Or are you planning on taking off again tomorrow?" he teased good naturedly.
--------------------------
"Actually I was going to head back there once I finished my tea...," she said with a lopsided grin. "I thought fourteen days away and two days back would be a pretty good schedule to stick to!" Ashara laughed and poked him in the side playfully. "Eddick gave me a good scolding for leaving you here last time, which in all fairness, I both asked for and deserved. I would hate to think what he'd do if I made a habit of it!"

She used the mug to warm her hands as she stared into the crackling flames. "Waterdeep was a lot less entertaining without Gwilly there, but there was plenty of time to research what is needed to make some scrolls and potions for healing purposes. I had to come back yesterday since the components were ready for your birthday present." Ashara pushed a lock of hair over her ear and glanced down at the ring he wore on his hand. She had chosen the rare topaz for its particular hue that so closely matched the Champions' symbol. It was beautiful on its own, but since it had been combined with the bottled light from the Plane of Radiance, it had taken on an almost glowing quality that resembled a red dawn.

"I'll have to go back again in a few days to get some components. It won't be a long trip, and I was hoping you could go with me." The priestess smiled and peered up at him through her eyelashes. "If you could pry yourself away from Kaber for a few moments of course!"
----------------------------
"Really? I didn't know it was possible for me to go." Elric answered with surprise. "I assumed the plant walking thing only worked for you." He tried to keep a deep thoughtful expression on his face. "I'll have to put some thought in to that. Hmmm...." He pretended to weigh the options. "I can either A) go to the big exciting city with the beautiful Ashara.... or B) stay here and be continually pummeled by Kaber. He does need a lot of work..."

"Kaber has a lot of intersting ideas, but I don't think his people do a lot of sparring. Our styles are very different." Elric rubbed a shoulder that was still sore from an earlier training session. "What he lacks in style, he does make up for in enthusiasm!'

He couldn't keep a stoic expression any longer. Smiling down at her, "Of course if Eddick is upset with you... We simply can't have THAT! Who knows what he'll make us eat next."
-----------------------------
"What he'll make us eat?" Ashara blinked at him in mock horror. "Eddick has never made me eat anything strange... I mean, lots of fish sure, but nothing odd. Maybe he just saves the really good spells for you," she said with a wink.

"You're right, I can't take anyone else when I travel through the trees, but I can take one person with me if we Wind Walk. However, it's not instantaneous, so it would take us two days to get to Waterdeep." She remembered suddenly that he had Wind Walked before...nearly a year ago now, when he, Cadderly and Therogeon had come to capture her. This time, she had no trouble shaking off the negative feelings that such memories had often triggered. Her time with the High Radiance had given her a new perspective on the events in her past, and helped to bring her to a place of acceptance.

Ashara took a tiny sip of the tea, checking the temperature, then shifted her eyes to the shoulder Elric was rubbing. It took an enormous amount of restraint not to check him over and make sure the brusing wasn't too severe. "If you'd like me to do something for that," she said, motioning to his shoulder, unable to completely conceal the concern in her eyes, "I'd be happy to, of course. Kaber would never have to know!"
------------------------------
Elric stopped fiddling with his shoulder. "This? Ahh this is nothing. Just something I'll remember to dodge next time. It'll be fine." He hoped he said convincingly. Part of him was a little concerned that if he had every bump and bruise healed, it would make him weak or careless. Sometimes you needed a few 'reminders' to keep your head in battle.

"I didn't think about the Wind Walking thing," He had an involuntary shudder. He too remembered the first time he'd wind walked. They knew Ashara wasn't in her right mind, but they didn't know for certain what was going to happen. Some things are impossible to plan. Going into battle with a good friend was the worst feeling he'd ever experienced. Taking a quick drink of tea he added, "Gwilly said you traveled for a while. I guess I figured you had some important Priestly duties and needed to get back as soon as possible." He got a curious expression on his face and asked, "If Eddick scolded you, why didn't you ask?"
-------------------------------
Ashara lowered her eyes and pretended to find something interesting in her mug. "I was going to ask, but when I came home you and Kaber were talking about your plans for the week, and I guess I didn't want to intrude on that..." She took a swallow of tea and then looked up to meet his eyes. "I think I was a little nervous that you might have turned me down if I had asked. Perhaps I was just imagining it, but you seemed a bit distant at the time, and I didn't know why. We never had the opportunity to talk about it before I left."

She sat up a bit straighter and turned towards him. "I know that I've managed to make a mess of things already, but I promise, I'm learning from my mistakes, and I hope you'll bear with me."

"I'm kind of new at this," she added with a apologetic smile.
-------------------------------
"You've..." He tried to remember anything in particular that she must be thinking about. Nothing came to mind. "How have you made a mess of anything?"

He set the tea down and looked back at her with bit of sadness. "I'm sorry. You weren't imagining anything. I was a little 'off' last time you were back. Your father gave me a lot to think about. I wasn't trying to alienate you or anything. I'm sorry you felt that. We should have talked, but pixie free moments have been few and far between lately." He smiled again. "For the record, I would have gone."
-------------------------------
"Your father gave me a lot to think about."

Ashara's jaw clenched tightly at the words. She loved her father very much. He was a good and responsible man, but he had a tendency to be quite overprotective. If he said something to make Elric question his feelings... Anger flared briefly and she pressed her fingers to her forehead, trying to calm down.

After a moment, she set her mug on the small table, and turned again to meet his gaze. "Elric, you have nothing to apologize for! This is my fault for not joining you at that dinner. I should have known he would say something...unsettling." She sighed and dropped her eyes. "Since I noticed you weren't yourself when I came back last time, I went to ask my parents about it. My father said that I should be speaking with you, and not him. We didn't have the time before, or rather, didn't take the time, but there's only you and I here now."

Ashara smiled warmly up at him, hoping to ease the mood. "Could we take the time now?," she asked, nearly pleading. "What did he say to upset you so?" She let out a long, slow breath, preparing for the worst.
---------------------------------
"It is overdue..." he agreed nervously. "It wasn't really anything in particular he said." Elric began. This was a conversation that he knew that they needed to have, but he would have given anything not to have it. He began to hope that they'd be interupted by Gwilly, or Kaber, or a dragon...

"He was concerned for you of course. Afraid of the future, that I might hurt you, somehow. He knows I'd never do anything intentionally, but he's still concerned. Everyone, myself included wants the very best for you. I just hope I'm it."

He had started this conversation a hundred times in his head and he never liked it there. He was out of time though, the conversation had finally come. Shifting uncomfortably he reached for his tea. He hoped a quick drink would take away the chill he was feeling, but it didn't phase it. She was the first person he knew that saw him as just a person and not a half breed, and he was about to destroy that. Yet she had to realize what that meant. It wasn't fair to either of them never to mention it. With a voice barely above a whisper he finally asked. "Ashara, how far into the future have you thought? You know, about life with what I am?"
-------------------------------
The priestess' heart thudded once, then stuttered a few times before continuing its rhythm. "I have thought about the future... Mostly wondering if I'd be part of yours. What do you mean when you say 'what' you are though?" As she studied his face in her confusion, she saw the pointed tips of his ears began to redden. "Ah...," she sighed softly. "Elric, why in the world would I mind now that you're half elf? You know I've never cared!" Ashara slid closer to him and ran her thumb along the ridge of his ear. "You ARE the best thing for me, and who you are is not based on your heritage. You need to understand that I would feel the same about you if had no ears and blue skin! It just doesn't matter to me..."

She didn't understand what had brought this on, and her eyes widened a bit as she thought of a possible reason. "Did my father or mother have a problem with that?! Certainly they didn't... They've never said a negative word about your parentage before!" Horrified at the thought, Ashara wondered if she would have to go over there and give them a piece of her mind.
------------------------------
Elric stared into his mug of tea as if searching for answers there, but none were to be found. "You say that now..." he whispered not wanting to continue this line of talk, but having gone too far to turn back. "What about in twenty years? Forty? Don't you want someone you'll grow old with? What about children? Legends say they would be full human, but what if they aren't?"

He shook his head slightly. "Your parents didn't say anything about this. I guess the dinner just got me thinking about my own parents. I had always assumed my mother just didn't care. Since Dagadar the thoughts creeped into my mind that maybe she cared too much. Or maybe he did?" The tea had gone cold, but he still held on to it.
-------------------------------
Her countenance fell when she heard the sadness in Elric's voice. It seemed almost as if he had resigned himself to living his life alone. "I have to admit that I've never thought about how you age more slowly... I guess it's easy to forget that there are such differences between us. " Ashara turned her gaze toward the hearth. "It would be hard to watch someone grow frail with age, while you stayed young and vital, but it seems to me that the burden would be yours, not mine. Can you live with that?"

"You will trust me with your life in battle. Why won't you trust me with your heart?" The priestess' eyes began to glisten, and she was unsure whether to be angry or burst into tears. "Do you think that this love I have for you is such a fleeting thing? And how could you possibly think that I would care whether any children...OUR children would be human or part elf? They would be part of you! Do you think I'd love them any less? Would you love them any less?" Though she never raised her voice, it increased in painful intensity as she spoke.

"We don't know what happened between your mother and father...not yet anyway. Your mother was a full-blooded elf though, and her world must have been much different from your father's. Do you think it is the same with us?" Ashara slumped gently against the back of the couch, eyes still on the fire. She couldn't look at his face in fear of what she'd see there.

The silence hung heavily for a moment before she continued.

"I will tell you this, Elric. I don't know how long I have to live, but I will give you every moment of every day I have left to me. That's all I have to give, but I don't know if it's enough."
--------------------------------
Elric was surprised by the emotion in her outburst. Looking back at her, he didn't know what to say. He wasn't sure if she was about to hit him or start crying. He hoped she was going to hit him. That he could deal with.

"Ashara?" He set the cup down and turned to face her. She kept staring at the fire. "Ashara, I do trust you with my heart. Even if I didn't, its too late. You already have it. For as long as you want it."

"I just..." he didn't really know what he was trying to say anymore. "You know me... I'm a very impulsive person. Most of the biggest mistakes I've made in my life have been because of that." He sighed loudly. "Being with me will bring its own challenges. My mother chose to live with her own kind. My father with his. I'm between worlds. I don't 'have' a kind. I know that. I'll have to watch my friends grow old. There's nothing I can do about it. I can accept that. You have a choice."

"I hope you know I'm not trying to chase you away" he added with a touch of panic in his voice. "I just felt you had to understand everything. It wouldn't be... fair not to warn you." It sounded stupid to him when he said it like that.
------------------------------
Ashara ran her hand through her hair as he spoke, and began twisting the strands around her fingers. She was so confused. It felt like he was pulling her to him with one hand while pushing her away with the other.

"I'm not convinced that you aren't trying to do just that," she whispered sadly, as she turned to meet his eyes, "to chase me away. At least that way you wouldn't have to wait for me to leave you. Is that what you think is going to happen? Do you think you're making another impulsive mistake by being with me? Do you think I'm going to hurt you too?" Elric began to shake his head in frustration, and she finally realized what was going on. "No...that's not it. You're afraid I'M making the mistake by choosing to be with you! You're afraid that I'M being impulsive!" His expression told her she had hit the mark.

Ashara couldn't contain the laughter that bubbled from her lips. He certainly didn't appear to be kidding, but the absurdity of it was epic. She raised her hand and gently held the side of his face. "How can it be that you're so blinded by what you think you are on the outside that you are completely unaware of who you are on the inside?"

"Elric... You are good and kind, quick to forgive and to grant second chances. You are brave, loyal, honest, supportive and self-sacrificing. You have a wicked wit and charm that I must say, I'm glad you've not learned to use on poor unsuspecting women!" She winked at him as she continued. "You are skilled beyond comprehension, both martially and musically, and you strive to perfect those pursuits. You have a gift for self-control that I could only hope to attain someday. You can be very single-minded when working toward a goal, but you never lose sight of what's truly important to you, and you always seem to have a sense of when you need to relax and have fun. You have a hunger to learn new things, whether languages, cultures, stories or songs, you always seem to be filling your brain with exciting information. You are a true hero, Elric. You spoke for me and defended me when I couldn't do so myself. You found me and kept me safe until a cure could be discovered, then helped me to overcome the guilt of those things I'd done while I wasn't in my own mind. You have been my friend, and my advocate. You've been my champion."

The priestess smiled affectionately at him and dropped her hand back down to her lap. "I'm not making a mistake, and though I've been called many things, 'impulsive' was never one of them. You say I have a choice. Well, I've made it! If you want to chase me away, you're going to have to try a lot harder than that," she challenged with a teasing grin.
------------------------------
Elric turned beet red under all this unasked for praise. He wasn't a very introspective person by nature. Never had been. To hear all these wonderful qualities, and to have them attributed to himself rendered the warrior speechless. Even though she was laughing, He knew she was being honest and really thought of him that way. Her laughter was contagious and he couldn't help but laugh along.

"Ok, I give up!" Elric raised his hands in surrender. "It sounds like you hit the jackpot! I still think I'm getting the better of the deal, but it sounds like you've found a pretty good guy."

He got a little more serious again, "I shouldn't have said anything. Gwilly was right, my heritage doesn't matter. I'm just so afraid I'm gonna mess this up, that i just about mess it up!" He gave her an embarassed smile. "I'm a little new at this too."
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"Good, I'm glad you're finally seeing it my way!" Ashara arched an eyebrow and grinned widely as she picked up her cup. "The next time you dare insinuate that you're not good enough for me, I'm going to start complementing your physical attributes as well, so you better watch it!" She took a swallow of the cold tea, wincing as she forced it down her throat. "Ugh..."

The priestess rose from her seat and moved over to the hearth to retrieve the hot water, and refilled both of their mugs. "So," she started as she sat down, curling herself against him once more, "how long do half elves usually live anyway? I see the differences between you and Therogeon. He's twice your age, yet he looks younger than you! If you age more slowly than I do, why is it that I haven't noticed it yet?"
------------------------------
Still chuckling from her unique threat, he accepted both the fresh tea and her. "You really think Therogeon looks younger than me?" he asked her quizzically. "I'm not really sure the answer to your question. I really haven't met any others besides him. From what I've read in the few books I've found on the subject, anywhere between one to two centuries is the average. Each one is unique in their own way though."

"Eldorath told me I was growing at the speed of a human. An elf our age would still be a young child." he explained. "I had thought Therogeon grew more like that, aging at a steady rate. After his story of the Blue Flame though.... I don't really know. He claims he was sixteen and acting as foolish any human adolesent, so maybe he did age like me." He thought for a moment before continuing.

"It seems that the aging process slowed after that though. I don't know what it'll be like for me."
-----------------------------
"Well," she reconsidered as she studied his face, "maybe he doesn't look younger than you, but certainly not older. Maybe it's just the size difference. Sometimes when you two are next to each other, it looks like he could be your little brother!" Ashara giggled and took a sip of her tea. "Don't tell him I said that though..."

She shook her head, considering the new information. "Two hundred years is a very long time. A blink of the eye for an elf, I'm sure, but my perspective is a bit different. It must be difficult living among those of us with the life spans of an insect," she teased, "but I'm not afraid of growing older. I may not be able to sled down that mountain in 40 or 50 years, at least not without spell assistance, but there are things to be gained with age."

"At least you can rely on Therogeon and Gwilly to be around for a good long time!"
----------------------------
"I hope you're right. It really is pointless to worry about who'll be where in fifty years, a hundred, Two hundred? Gwilly may just see something shiny and wander off on her own adventures... Therogeon may blow himself up, or Haste himself into early retirement. Regardless, somehow I see grander things in our spellcaster's future than collecting herbs in Impresk."

"Fact is as long as we're professional heroes, we don't know what tomorrow will bring. Let alone a century from now." He gave her a smile and with his arm around her shoulders gave a reassuring tug. "Why don't we just take things day by day?"
---------------------------
"Day by day he says! This from the man that put the idea of quarter elves in my mind!" Ashara laughed for a few moments, then laid her head against his chest. With her eyes turned, they were drawn to Dawnspeaker, which sat on the table across from them. It was unusual for her not to be wearing it, but she thought maybe it would be safe enough for her to have it a few feet away. For a few hours at least.

"Does it make any sense for the distant future to seem more certain than the one that comes with the next dawn?" She sighed softly, thinking of the darkness they had yet to face. "I realize all too well how precarious our lives are. I have thought of nearly nothing else during my time in Waterdeep. Occasionally it's just nice...for a short time...to imagine that everything will be fine, and that we will actually get the chance to die of old age! Not a common thing for those in our line of work."

"We will have to find them though... The four other priests of Cyr--, of...him. They can't be allowed to roam across Faerun spreading this curse much longer. Unless something more pressing comes up, I feel compelled to have that business brought to a permanent end."
------------------------------
"We'll find them." He said with confidence. "We'll find them, and we'll stop them. We'll save the world, and live happily ever after. I'll write a song about it. Everyone will love it." He smiled down at her and chuckled.

"I can't help but think we're so close to winning. We've beaten the Shade, stopped the weapon shipments, we've fought dragons, and beaten wizards. The shadow priests are still around, but we've made them ineffectual by telling everyone how the curse works. Now we just have to find them. Perhaps that's what Therogeon has been working on in Waterdeep. Maybe Eddick and Gwilly's Harper friends throw a bigger net out." He shook his head and laughed, "I can't believe she actually is a Harper!"
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"Yes, that took me by surprise as well!" She lifted her head briefly to take a sip of tea. "I guess we may have to be more careful about what we assume Gwilly's only joking about."

Ashara didn't believe for a second that the priests of Cyric had been thwarted, nor that the evil could be put down as easily as he made it sound, but it seemed he didn't wish to delve into the more serious business right now. She could hardly blame him. May as well enjoy this time while it lasts, for it could be over at any moment.

The peaceful silence lasted for some time, and aside from the fire, the only sound she could hear was the comforting cadence of the warrior's heartbeat.

"You know...," she began softly, "Eddick and Gwilly both have birthdays coming up. The 8th and 18th respectively, of next month. Obviously we can't make TOO many plans, but it would be nice to do something for each of them if we have the opportunity." Ashara raised her eyes to meet Elric's, and they shone with a mischievous glint. "Do you think it would be possible for us to set Gwilly up with an eligible bachelor pixie? Or perhaps we could find the leprechaun again, she seemed to like him quite a lot... She gets far too much satisfaction out of teasing you and I, and I think it's time she got a taste of her own medicine! Unfortunately I've never been the diabolical type, so I don't know where to start... What exactly would it take to make a pixie blush?"
-------------------------------
Elric smiled widely at the idea. "Oh, I think your selling yourself short. You can be quite diabolical when you want to." He thought for a moment then responded.

"First you have to be able to see her. After that... I'm not sure. She doesn't seem to have much 'shame' or 'embaressment', as we know the words." He seemd to wrack his memories and finally shook his head. "I don't think they even have a word for them. They have a variation of the word 'funny', but they have a lot of words that mean that."

He frowned a little as he thought of Ashara's suggestions. "I wouldn't have a clue where to find little bachelor pixies. Closest we found were in the leprechaun forest. Nixies, Mixies, something like that, but she didn't seem to be interested in any of them. Also the leprechaun won't do the trick. I've already tried that one!" He picked up the tea and took a drink before continuing. "Seems that wasn't 'true love' and was more of a fad." He added in a higher voice, one could only assume was 'supposed' to sound like Gwilly, "She's quite over him now."

"Besides," Elirc looked down at her, tea mug hiding a mischevous smile. "We'd have to find a 'really' special pixie for her if we wanted to distract her from planning 'our' wedding."
------------------------------
Ashara felt the blood burn up the sides of her neck and spread throughout her cheeks. "What?! S...she must have been just teasing you. I mean...she mentioned it back on the ship, but she just said that to get a reaction out of us. Besides, there's nothing even to plan!" A tiny bit of hysteria had mingled into her voice, despite her attempt to remain composed.

Then she noticed the impish smile tugging at the corners of Elric's mouth, and she sat up, narrowing her eyes. "Here I thought I could trust you!" Her voice deepened in mock horror at his betrayal. "I realize that it amuses the others to watch me blush and squirm, but I thought you were above that... And you say I can be diabolical!" The priestess stuck the tip of her tongue out at him and grinned as she took another swallow of tea.
-----------------------------
Elric couldn't keep from laughing at her reaction. He had predicted a couple possiblities, but panic wasn't one of them. He gave her a smile, "First of all, I like you in that color. Matches your robes nicely!" He raised his eyebrows in mock curiosity. "Secondly, wasn't that the same dinner where she told us she was a Harper? You better not take anything for granted there!" He reminded her of her own advice.

"Actually," his tone got a little more serious, "She has brought the subject up a few times to me..." He was a little nervous, but not as much as he had expected. "Apparently its the general concensus that I'm an idiot for not asking you yet." He started to blush himself now. "I don't really know how the humans do this kind of thing, I'm not sure if its considered too fast or anything. I've known you for years, but it still seems fast to me. The elves tend to wait decades before making important decisions..." He began faltering for words.

Finally he took a deep breath and asked. "I really do want to marry you, more than I've ever wanted anything. I know we've got a lot to deal with right now but, I wanted you to know that. Could we give Gwilly permission to plan a wedding party?"
-----------------------------
Her face never had a chance to regain its normal shade. It was one thing to talk about the abstract future, but quite another to hear the words spoken aloud. The priestess' eyes began to water again, and after setting her mug down, she crushed herself against Elric, wrapping her arms around him in a hug. "I want that too...," she whispered into his ear, "to be your wife. More than anything."

Suddenly remembering his bruises, she pulled away quickly and gently rested her hand on the shoulder with an apologetic smile. "Please excuse my...enthusiasm, but I wasn't sure you'd ever ask!" Ashara laughed and brushed a tear from her cheek. "What can we tell Gwilly though? We don't know how much longer we have here, nor do we know when our business in the southwest will be complete. It will be difficult for her to plan something with no time frame to work with."
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He was shocked. The question had actually been asked, and it had been answered. Just like that. He didn't know what to say. This was a day full of surprises. He never imagined when they left this morning to go sledding that it would have turned out like this. "Excuse..." he looked at her quizzically, "Why?" Then he felt the familiar throb in his shoulder and understood. "Ahhh, don't worry about it. It really isn't that bad, If I have a choice, I prefer the enthuiasm!" he said with a smile.

"As for what to tell Gwilly?" He looked at her and laughed. "I have no idea. I didn't really plan this far ahead! Knowing her, it'll be a party like none other so she'd need time to prepare." He gave her a wink, "Actually I think that might be why she's practicing her wine and cheese making skills lately!"

He looked at her for advice. "What do you think? Should we set a time in the future and hope for the best? Travel hasn't been much of an issue for us anymore. The elves tend to combine their weddings with holidays like Springrite, and Midsummer festivals. What are the human customs?"
----------------------------
Ashara could hardly believe they were having this conversation, and as much as she wanted to pinch herself to be sure she wasn't sleeping, she didn't want to have to explain herself if he saw her do it.

"Well, human customs often vary by region, but in Impresk it seems most weddings are held during festival days or in the winter months, when people aren't busy with farm work. Most marriages between followers of Lathander are held at dawn at a shrine or temple, and usually in the spring." She was suddenly very aware of the divine mace that lay on the table a few feet from her, and she reached over taking its glassteel shaft into her hand. How quickly she had put her own desires above her responsibilities.

"I have only one concern," the priestess began in barely more than a whisper. "I don't think I have told you much about Dawnspeaker..." She cradled the weapon against her chest and met Elric's eyes. "This mace has been carried into battle by Lathander himself, and it is not given as a gift, but as a temporary trust. Once our quest is completed and the need for its presence is over, it will return to the Morninglord." Her hand trembled as she pushed a lock of hair over her ear. "Dagadar was a test. A test to see if we...if I was worthy to carry this and go on to the real quest Lathander has presented us with. If Dagadar was the test, I fear that what we are to go up against could only be more challenging than the battle with the Shade."

The tremble starting in her hand had spread to her speech at this point. "Elric, I don't know how long it will take, but until the purpose of Dawnspeaker, this quest, has been completed, I fear it would be...unwise for us to mar--." Ashara's voice broke at that last word, and she had to take a moment to pull herself together. She continued with a pained expression etched across her features. "I have no fear of risking my life in battle. For you, for our friends, for the purpose given to us. It's the reality of the life we have chosen. But, if there was a ch...a child in me... I could not bring myself to risk our child's life. I would not. The Shade hit me with spells I was barely able to shrug off. Spells that made my very soul shudder! I couldn't go into such a battle knowing I could lose a child, and I couldn't compromise the safety of the Champions by putting myself in a position where that could be a possibility."

She took Elric's hand and squeezed it gently. "Please don't think I'm trying to back out of this already. If I could act on my own impulsive wish, I would take you to the House of the Golden Harvest right now and have the matter settled tonight." Ashara chuckled nervously, realizing what she was saying, then sighed in obvious remorse as she uttered her next words. "Unfortunately, I'm not impulsive..."
------------------------------
Dagadar was only a test. That thought sent a noticable shiver through him. There had been so much blood and death in that fight, what would the 'real' quest bring. Its true he had taken for granted what the mace meant. They had found so many magical weapons, that Eddick was starting to arm his scarecrows with them. It was easy to just discount Dawnspeaker as just another treasure. But it wasn't, was it?

She hadn't spoken much about her own experience fighting the Shade. He'd never asked. He was just happy they were all alive. The battle was pure Chaos. He was fighting blind, but he had an idea of what else was happening. He knew Kaber and Gwilly had both fallen. General thoughts were that the only way they won the day, was because of the Divine Intervention of Lathander himself. At the very end there, he had been hurt enough to retreat to Ashara. And that was just a test.

He knew from the beginning that just as there would be unique difficulties caused by his heritage, there would be special difficulties with loving a Morninglord. Times when duty was going to interfere with personal desires. He didn't imagine it would happen so soon though.

Looking a little deflated, he tried to keep the disappointment out of his voice. "You're right. We have to take care of this quest first. There's too much riding on our success." He forced a smile. "However, as soon as that..." he indicated Dawnspeaker, "goes back to its master, I'll be looking for the first priest we can find! Deal?" He gave a laugh and added, "Unlike you, Gwilly is impulsive! I'm sure she can throw a great party at the drop of a hat."
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"Deal. And I hope you're right about Gwilly, because I may only be able to give her a couple hours to put something together." The smirk playing at Ashara's lips made it seem as if she was teasing, but her eyes revealed she was deadly serious. "At some point I will have waited long enough. I'm only human, you know!"

She carefully placed Dawnspeaker back down on the table, her fingers lingering on it briefly before taking up Elric's hand in both of hers. "I would like to tell my parents of our pledge to marry, if you don't mind me doing so. I feel I owe them that after last month's debacle, but what of the other Champions?" She raised her eyes to meet his and grinned. "Should we tell them as well, or let them call us idiots for a while longer?"
----------------------------
Elric was laughing pretty well at the idea of telling Gwilly she had an hour to set up everything! Looking in her eyes he didn't doubt that's the way it would happen either.

Getting a mischevious glint in his eyes he said, "Honestly, I'd say let them keep calling us idiots for a while. After all, we know better!" Then he added with a smirk, "besides, it might be kind of fun knowing something they don't for a change! Or maybe that's 'my own' devious nature talking. Besides, they all like to talk, and it hard to know when Gwilly's around and when she isn't."

"As for your parents... They have a right to know. I certainly don't have a problem with you telling them. We'll have to make sure Gwilly isn't around of course..." Then he got a curious look on his face and asked, "Do you think your mother can keep a secret?"
---------------------------
"She will keep our secret if she absolutely must, though it's possible that all of Impresk will hear the scream when she finds out." she chuckled a bit at the thought of trying to reign in her mother. "She'll be okay once she knows that she only needs to keep it to herself while we're still in town."

The priestess had never been one of those little girls who dreamed of their wedding day. Her mother did that for her, while Ashara was out working in the fields with her father, sketching under the old maple tree next to the house, or absorbing wisdom from Josiah. The thought of telling her that a date could not be set, and that there would probably not be much notice beforehand...yeah... She was fairly certain her mother would not be pleased. Gwilly and Arryn Rosemorn would get along famously!

"Aside from my parents, I see no harm in keeping this to ourselves for awhile! Eddick and Gwilly would probably call us idiots anyway, if they realized we were waiting." She smiled weakly and blew out a long breath, mentally berating herself for being so practical all the time. It was her suggestion, but looking into Elric's eyes now, she was already losing resolve. Not a good sign if this was to be a long engagement.

The fire was burning low, and the hour was getting quite late. Ashara squeezed the warrior's hand as she rose and put another log on the fire, casting a spell on it so it would burn for the rest of the evening. The temperatures had gotten so low at night that they would probably all freeze in their beds if there were no fire to heat the house. Standing next to the table, she picked up Dawnspeaker and hung it in its place at her side.

"I should probably get some sleep tonight. The dawn waits for no one I'm afraid." Laughing aloud, she winked and added, "You might consider sleeping yourself, unless you'd rather I wake you with a bucket of water in the morning!"
-------------------------------
Elric laughed at the mental image of her with 'the bucket'. He hadn't needed the bucket since he was a kid. He had learned pretty early on, when Eldorath said to be up... he meant to be UP. The memories of training while soaking wet still stuck with him. Still she was right, morning was going to come too early tomorrow. "Good luck." He said with a grin. "I think the idea of me getting any sleep tonight is pretty optomistic."

Still he rose to his feet to join her on the trip upstairs. "Well," he said with a chuckle. "That takes care of Gwilly. Maybe we should pick something up in Waterdeep. A little medal that says something like 'Wedding Party Planner'. Though I hope you realize there may be no living with her if she gets free reign."

"I don't have any idea what to do for Eddick's birthday. New Saddle? Shiny shoes?" he suggested kiddingly. "He doesn't focus much on material possessions."
-----------------------------
"Perhaps you could write a song for him!" Ashara beamed up at the half elf as they walked up the stairs. "The druids that gave their lives at the Battle of the Broken Eclipse deserve to be recognized in some way, and to immortalize them in song would be a worthy gift. Or maybe the tale of how Eddick saved Zazesspur and rescued King Haedrick from Hannitar Crownguard. There's lots of material to work with I would think, but you have the gift of composition, definitely not I!"

"As for Gwilly, you're right, she will probably be pretty excited about the prospect of planning the wedding, but without a date or time to prepare, how much damage can she really do?" She laughed at the look of disbelief Elric shot her. "Well, I guess as long as you're there, I'll be able to deal with anything she could come up with. Short, perhaps, of riding in on a unicorn..." The priestess flushed a bit and looked up at him sheepishly. "That was Eddick's idea, and I'm hoping he wasn't serious."
--------------------------
"A song? I don't know." He shook his head with a touch of sadness. "You're right the Fall of the Druids does deserve a memorial, but I'm not sure I could do them justice. I didn't really get along with very many of them, and I didn't see the battle. So it would be a song based on rumors..." He gave a bit of a chuckle at that thought. "Which I suppose isn't totally unheard of.

"Still he counted them as friends and colleagues. I'd hate to offend him by getting details wrong somehow." He was quiet for a moment in thought. "Of course, I could write something just about Eddick himself... I'll have to think about that."

"That was Eddick's idea, and I'm hoping he wasn't serious." Elric blinked in surprise. "So it sounds like the you and the others are already making plans, huh? I can picture a unicorn... What else have you guys decided on?" he said with wink.
---------------------------
The priestess nodded at Elric's assessment of her idea of a song about the Battle. Chances were good that it would only depress the druid. She was quite sure though, that Eddick would really enjoy hearing a piece about his exploits, and perhaps such a song would even make its way back to Silverthorn Keep and his family!

When Elric asked about what plans had already been made for a wedding, her eyes widened and she stopped in her tracks. "No, no! No one has been making any plans," she said quickly with a touch of panic in her voice, "the others just like to tease me about it! I mean I DID tell Gwilly that she could be my maid of... But that was in Dagadar, even before I... And there were the flowers she... But I never..." Ashara shut her eyes and put her fingers over her mouth to stop the flood of words. She shook her head in disbelief at her own awkwardness, and wondered if her hands and feet were always cold because the blood never really made it out of her face.
------------------------
Elric had to lean against the wall he started laughing so hard. He could just see the others teasing her, and Ashara probably having this same reaction THEN too! He considered himself lucky that he hadn't gotten quite that kind of attention yet.

Wiping his eyes he told her about his own experiences with the Champions. They weren't as interesting, but he hoped it would calm the panicing priestess down. At least a little. "Apparently you've been getting more of it than I have! I just had to promise Gwilly she could plan the party, and she's left me mostly alone 'for now.' I think Eddick may have said something down in Dagadar, but I'm not really sure what. I was still a little fuzzy from the battle, and I don't alway understand what he says on a good day!"

Reflecting back on those 'talks' he added, "Before I promised her anything, I did get verbally assualted by a Pixie... That was an experience! Made me a little nervous at the time... Have you gotten that yet?"
-------------------------
"Aside from Eddick calling me an idiot on occasion, which is wholly deserved, there hasn't been too much assaulting going on." Ashara smiled, appreciating the opportunity to regain her composure. "He did give us his blessing, just before telling me that I needed to apologize, take you to Waterdeep with me, and spend more time with you in general."

"Gwilly seems to only poke fun at me when you're around, which only makes it worse. I think she's caught on to that. Back in Dagadar, the night before we fought the Shade, I was speaking with Eddick about...things...which of course she overheard. Well, afterward, she woke me up to ask if she could be my flower girl! At that point I hadn't even spoken with you yet, and I thought for sure you were going to turn me down anyway. She looked so happy I didn't want to disappoint her, so I told her that if the opportunity presented itself, that she could be my maid of honor. Since then, she's really not mentioned much to me. I think she's been saving it for you instead!" She grinned at him.

"Then there was Kaber. He asked a few very 'personal' questions...," she coughed and blushed again. "He did tell me that one of the reasons he rushed into that globe of shadow, was to give you and I a chance at being together. He thought, and rightly so, that we were already losing the fight and he took that risk hoping that it would turn the tide." Her eyes lifted, remembering the incident just before they fought the demigod. "That reminds me! Kaber took you and Eddick aside separately just before that battle. What was that all about? You looked as if you'd seen a ghost!" Ashara took a step towards him and searched his face. "Kaber seemed to be in an especially bad mood that day, especially after Eddick called him a coward. Did he threaten you?"
-------------------------
Elric's laughter stopped cold. Now it was the half-elf's turn to turn red. He remembered well that conversation. No matter how much he tried to forget. He hadn't told anyone what had been discussed, though Therogeon seemed to have heard. He was actually a little surprised the other half-elf never used that memory against him. It was wonderful ammunition.

"Threaten? No, no, no, I almost wish he had." He found he couldn't look her in the eyes. His ears felt like they were on fire. "Kaber.... He... ummm." He didn't know how to answer this. "I don't even know how he found out about us... I'd put money that the pixie was involved..." Awkwardly he leaned against the wall and tried to tell her the story.

"Keep in mind, this was only a few hours after we first talked down there. I still was 100% sure you weren't... Y'know, with certain death behind every door... With the darkness and the walls closing in down there..." He was stalling and he knew it. "Kaber was concerned that... we wouldn't be thinking about the fight. Missed opportunities. He wanted us to.... umm..." his voice trailed off.

"You should probably know," he quickly changed the subject. "I actually heard you talking to Eddick that night... Some of it at least..." This was pretty embarassing to admit too, but by far the lesser of two evils. "I wasn't trying to or anything, but I was on edge that night, and I heard my name mentioned a few times. I tried to block most of it out. I really only heard enough to make me bring the subject up on our watch."
-------------------------
"So you were eavesdropping on our conversation then?" Ashara teased him, though he still wasn't able to look at her. Unlike her companions, she hated watching Elric squirm uncomfortably, so she tried to reassure him. "I suppose it's hard to keep anything private when we're all sleeping within a ten foot radius of each other. I'm hardly upset with you. Besides, it all worked out well I think!"

She had no idea what he had been trying to say about Kaber. Thinking back to that time, she could remember that the minotaur was strongly insisting that they wait another day before attempting to destroy the Shade. It seemed very out of character for him. During the conversation she had with Kaber later in Dagadar, he had asked her about the 'ritual' that Gwilly tried to tell him about. THAT must have been why Kaber wanted them to wait! He must have thought that they should have a wedding before the battle so there were no missed opportunities! For a big, hairy beast, he certainly could be thoughtful!

Ashara smiled and moved over to the half elf. Standing only inches from him, she lifted his chin gently, to meet her eyes. "I promise I will do my best to see that no opportunity is missed... We will take the first occasion that presents itself." She assumed they were referring to a wedding. "Gwilly will want to be involved of course, and even Kaber is welcome if he's interested, but ultimately it's between you and I, and I don't care where or when. Dagadar may not have been the right time, but the time will come soon, and I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it!"
----------------------------
Elric's heart stopped for a moment. His mouth fell open, and his eyes went wide. He also seemed to have a hard time breathing all of a sudden. "What? Ummm, What did you just say?!?" he exclaimed in horror.

He went back over in his mind all the gibberish he had just spouted, hoping to get a clue about what she was talking about. Nothing stood out though. He must be missing something important. "Ashara... You said Kaber asked some 'personal' questions... What did he talk to you about?"
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She had just been leaning in to kiss him goodnight when he drew back in...fear? Revulsion?

"What?" The look on Ashara's face was a mixture of hurt and confusion. "I thought that's what you wanted too! I mean...what have we been talking about here?"

"Ashara... You said Kaber asked some 'personal' questions... What did he talk to you about?"

She took a couple steps back. "Kaber was asking me about wedding ceremonies. Apparently Gwilly tried to explain it to him and he was very confused. He did ask me a few other things that I managed not to answer, but that was the main one. Wasn't that what he wanted for you to do in Dagadar?"
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Elric stared at her for what seemed like an eternity. Then he started to smile and finally to laugh uncontrolably. "Weddings! Right!" He was able to say between gasped breaths. "Of course!" The pieces fell into place. It all made perfect sense now.

With a sigh of relief he tried to regain his composure. Wiping tears from his eyes, he told her. "No, that's not what he suggested to me at all! Lets just say that minotaur society is very different then ours! I don't think they have a words for 'wedding' or even 'courting' where he comes from!"
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Ashara stood there watching in bewilderment as Elric hunched over in hysterical laughter.

"If he didn't want us to get married that day, then what could he have told you that had you so scar--" Her eyes widened and she gasped loudly as she realized what Kaber must have suggested. "What?! He said we should... WHAT!?! Did you hit him!? I think I might have hit him..."

The suddenly pale priestess began to laugh nervously along with the half elf. "Yes, perhaps I misunderstood what you were trying to tell me. Slightly..."

"Well, on that awkward note," she grinned after a few moments, pushing her fingers to her forehead, "I think I'll try to sleep. Though you're probably right, there's almost no hope for it now. Perhaps I'll sketch for a while. Probably not the Kaber and Gwilly picture though... I may have to have a talk with him. Later... At some point... Next year..."
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Elric's laughter had ebbed somewhat. "Did I hit him? He was acting rather peculiar, even for him. And after what Eddick had called him!" He asked incredously. "I can honestly say the thought hadn't crossed my mind at the time. I still believe he meant well... In his own way"

"Still," he added with a chuckle. "It's not a conversation, I EVER want to have with him again!"

He shook his head at the thought of sleep. He didn't predict any in his immediate future. Dawn was going to be rough tomorrow. "Maybe I'll read a bit. I've still got a ring to decode." he said with a grin. "Sleep well, or happy sketching. Whichever it ends up being."

He reached out and pulled her in for a kiss.
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It had been a surprisingly eventful day, and though her body screamed for sleep, her mind swirled with all of the events of the last few hours. Everything and nothing had changed.

Ashara smiled as he reached for her, and she kissed him softly, with enough fervor to make a pixie blush.

"Goodnight, Elric," she grinned, "and good luck with that ring!"

As she closed the door to her room, she leaned against it heavily and slid in a heap to the floor. Nope. No hope for sleep at all.

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