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Hero's Song - Chapter Nineteen

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The mug was warm in my hands; Sal served his ale mulled, to combat the descending winter chill that was beginning to bite the air. I was clean, dressed in real clothes, and most of my wounds were bandaged or healed. Except one...

We had all scattered for a much-needed rest when we finally returned to the keep. Ammon and I had spoken, alone, in this very tavern, for a long time, the doors barred to anyone else trying to enter. Kana had thought it improper that I was holding meetings in an alehouse instead of the castle that was being built for me, but at this point in time her opinion weighed little on my priority scale. Well...not that it did at any other time, either.

The warlock sat by the fire, and no one was really making any move to go speak to him. The general atmosphere was hushed, reverent; Casavir had begged off some errand to do up at the keep, and Elanee had dissappeared into the woods, as was her wont. Qara and Sand were no doubt stalking the library, both at different ends of the room. And I Hunched shoulders, clenched jaw, staring into a mug of warm ale that had been sitting in front of me for near twenty minutes. They had all looked at me, that raw expectation in their faces, when I had finally opened the door to the tavern after speaking with Ammon. Their expressions said Tell us what to do. Tell us how we're going to win. Tell us that we didn't just make a huge mistake.

Tell us that no one else is going to die.

Someone greater than me, perhaps, would have said some noble words. A bard should always have words at her command, that's what I believed. You were nothing as a performer if you couldn't communicate the highest, loftiest ideals and the darkest, most piercing sorrow into words for those less inclined to think than you were. But I had had no words. They had wanted me to be a leader, to uplift their spirits and soothe their sadness. Instead, I came in here, asked Sal to pour me a drink, and sat down, silent.

A figure slid onto the empty stool beside me, and the tension in my shoulders eased somewhat as Bishop sat, gesturing to Sal to pour him a glass. When he got it, he took a long, heavy pull from the mug and set it down heavily on the bar.

"So, are you ready to listen to me now?"

I looked at him, pushing my loose hair out of my eyes. "About what?"

He glanced around, but no one was paying attention to us; Khelgar was on the other side of the room, drinking quietly with Neeshka, and Ammon continued to stare into the fire. He put his arm around my shoulders, leaning close...more so that he'd be able to whisper and less as an affectionate gesture, I felt, but the feel of his arm still sent my heart racing. "Shandra's dead, and there'll be more dead by the end of this. Take my word on leave now, and we can get far away from Neverwinter before anyone's the wiser."

I couldn't quite register that he hadn't given up on running away yet. "How can I run? After all that's happened?" I searched those dark eyes of his. "You speak of preventing death, and yet if I leave...there will be so many deaths on my head, I couldn't even count them."

"And what of it? They're weaklings, and they're more than willing to have you die for them. They rely on you because you're here. You're just an easy answer to their problems." His voice was so close to mine that when he next spoke, his voice low and suggestive, I could feel it sliding across my skin, like a blade wrapped in velvet. "I know it tempts you, Harper." My name on his lips was like a tongue of flame on the wood pile, and I inhaled rather quickly at the sound of it. "Would you rather stay here and die, or run, and live? We'd have a grand time of it, you and I..."

I studied him closely, not answering immediately. The look on his face was a rare one indeed...his tone was off-handed, casual, but his face? Ah, that was a different story. It was near painful to meet the intensity in his eyes, and I looked down at my hands, clutching at a half-empty glass mug for dear life. But he wouldn't let me escape that easily...his fingers were under my chin, and he firmly lifted my face up to meet his gaze once more. "No," he said, and his voice was rough, hard and edged with steel. "I've bled to keep you alive, girl. Don't make me keep bleeding, just to watch you die." He seemed to catch himself, and looked away from me. "I value my blood to highly for that."

"What makes you so certain of my death, Bishop?" The high, uncertain sound of my voice in my own ears knocked some backbone into me, and I faced him squarely. "We've defeated all of our enemies so far. I'm alive, in front of you! Right here..." I took his hand and pressed it to my chest...his fingers slid over my scar, where the highest point of it could be seen above the low collar of my tunic. He flinched when he touched it. "All this power I've been given, is for the sole purpose of fighting these shadows. There's no other reason for the ritual I performed other than that. Maybe I got thrown into this mess from no choice of my own, aye...but whatever run of luck put this shard in my chest, it's also given me the strength to use it." That old, silver-tongued fervency was slipping into my words, and I could see a frown forming between his brows as I spoke.

"So you take it, take whatever power is given to you, and leave," he said darkly. "Why should you be a victim of fate?"

"Because there are things bigger than me! Bigger than you, if you can stomach that idea," I said sharply. He snorted derisively, but I went on. "And because I know that these things come around again. I couldn't run forever...some day, whatever deeds I've done will come back to find me. They always do."

He looked as if he'd been slapped. I stopped in the midst of my tirade, aghast at the look on his face. There was anger there, always seemed to be there, with him. But underneath it was a terrible, terrible agony, well-hidden, but smoldering like the dying coals of a fire. It raked across me, and any more words that I had wilted under his stare. He pulled his hand from my grasp.

I reached for him again. "Bishop..."

No use. He stalked out the door, slamming it behind him. Khelgar and Neeshka looked up; the tiefling glanced at me, eyebrow raised. "And you like him why? He throws almost as many tempter tantrums as Qara."

I rolled my eyes. "Oh look, it's the pot calling the kettle black."

Khelgar stood, and took Bishop's stool, sitting beside me. "Look, lass, I...well, don't take this the wrong way, all right? I know ye two have...uhm..."

Neeshka grinned. "He knows that Bishop hasn't slept in his own room ever since Veedle fixed your suite in the keep, is what he's saying."

"Shut up, fiendling," growled the dwarf, his face crimson. "Look, Harper, I'm just lookin' out for ye. I don't trust that ranger; he's hiding somethin', and where we're headin' it's not going to pay to be keepin' secrets." He sighed, gesturing for Sal to refill his tankard. "It ain't my business, I ain't tryin' to make it my business, I just...well, I've been through too much death and bloodshed with ye to not say anything. Is all I'm sayin'."

I patted his arm awkwardly. "Thanks."

The door opened again, and in stepped Nevalle. His face was grave; apparently he'd heard about Shandra already. "Harper, Lord Nasher's sent me a message."

"What about?" I drained the rest of my ale (finally) and stood.

"He wants to see you. Alone." The last word was spoken meaningfully, and it surprised me somewhat.

I quirked an eyebrow at him. "With all the dangers on the roads these days, and he wants me to travel alone?"

"I'll be travelling with you, as will some of my guards. But you are to leave your companions here." He nodded at me crisply, and turned to leave. "We're leaving in an hour's time; don't delay me."

When the door shut behind him, Neeshka snorted. "He's in a good mood."

I frowned thoughtfully. "This is an odd request. Why would he want me to leave you all here?"

Khelgar scratched his beard thoughtfully. "I don't know, but I'm not liking it. You be careful, lass. And if ye come back here in less than one piece, I'll mop the floor with ye."

I smiled at him. "I'll try and keep all my parts."

I left the tavern, trudging my way up towards the keep. I heard a chorus of "Good afternoon, Captain" from some of the workers, and waved at them in surprise. Well, they're warming up a bit, aren't they? When I walked through the main double doors, Kana was almost immediately in my face.

"Captain, Sir Nevalle told me to prepare for your departure, and then he just left without telling me why. What-"

"I don't know, Kana. Lord Nasher wants me for something." I smothered my rising laughter at the expression on Kana's face.

"How long will you be gone?"

"I have no idea, but I'm sure you can handle things all by yourself for a bit, hmm?" And then I did laugh, as a mixture of surprise, exhultation, and utter panic crossed her face. "You'll do fine."

"Yes, Captain!" she said, her voice breaking a little.

I pushed open the door to my room, exhaling in relief as I slipped inside and shut it behind me. I stared at the general mess my equipment was in for a moment, despairing of even getting a chance to sleep before I left. Quickly, I started shoving smaller items into my pack...

"Going somewhere, are we?"

I glanced up...Bishop had been standing by the window, and I hadn't even seen him. I watched as he made his way to the other side of the bed. "Just me, this time. Nasher wants to see me alone, for some reason."

"How exciting." Whatever had happened to him in the tavern, it was gone now, and that mocking smirk was back on his face.

"Yes, well, I'm sure it is for you. You don't have to bleed for me this time, right?" My tongue sometimes spoke before my brain could dull it's edge, but no matter; I was still a little angry. I turned, reaching for my leather armor, but he was there before I could pick it up, pulling me away from it.

"Such anger, little elf. Are you angry with me?" His voice was pure velvet, seduction at it's best, and it always undid me in the end. His arms went around me, hands sliding down around my rear and lifting me off my feet. My legs went around him in an old, familiar embrace, and his lips ment mine in that teasing, mocking manner of his. I could feel him, pressed against me, and suddenly everything was swept away and there was nothing but hot, hungry desire that had been banked by days of travelling, death, and bloodshed. I pressed my mouth firmly against his, my hands holding his head still under my lips, retaliating with such force that he nearly lost his balance.

"How much time until you leave?" he whispered roughly.

"An hour."

He growled at me, and with a slight shove, unceremoniously dropped me backwards onto the bed. "You and your restrictions." He climbed on top of me, his mouth brushing against my ear. "I'll just have to see what I can manage in that amount of time, vanima."

o o o o o o

When I met Nevalle at the gates, I was only a few minutes late. Qara was with him, passing out some last minute healing potions to the guards. Nevalle quirked an eyebrow at me as I walked up.

"Sorry. I was saying goodbye," I said, breathlessly.

Qara chuckled. "So we heard." She winked at me. "Safe journey, Captain." She walked back towards the keep, whistling innocently.

Despite the hard, difficult road I had traveled and the many months of seasoning under my belt, I still had the grace to blush.

Hero's Song - Chapter 19 © Avariel

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