Monday, July 5, 2021

Duendewood vs. Solari 2: Priests and Paladins

"I don't think we're in any danger, here," said Werendril, "but I still want you to be cautious... and polite. The Abbess has offered an alliance of a sort, or at least a chance for our Orders to work together. I don't want to spoil that. If you're going to look around, travel in pairs and stay in the public areas. I'll be--"

He broke off, because Alviaris had met his eyes and looked significantly over his shoulder. Turning, Werendril beheld a woman in white and bronze robes standing at the far end of the short corridor that held their cells. There was a scimitar on her belt and an uncertain look on her face. 

"...How may I be of service?" asked Werendril, after a moment. 

"Ah--" she swallowed. "Are you Werendril? I'm Aesa. I'm sorry to interrupt." 

Werendril straightened. "I thought I was supposed to meet you in the morning." 

She shrugged. She was round-featured, barely into adulthood: one of the half-elves born of humans and common elves. It was suddenly easier for him to imagine Ruin taking an interest, especially if she'd been wanting to learn to fight. "I couldn't sleep," she said, "so I came to see if you were still awake." 

"Well... very well. Shondrelle, if you would? The rest of you find your places; we'll be back soon."

Shondrelle nodded and fell in behind Werendril as he approached the half-elf priestess. Her wolf sniffed the air again, and gave a peculiar half-whine as they neared the newly-raised cleric. He could hear doors opening and closing behind him, as the rest of the troop dispersed. 

"How well do you know Ruin?" he asked, as they reached her. 

Aesa shrugged, and-- was that a blush? "Not that well," she admitted. "He was only here for a couple of days. Would you walk with me? I'll bet Anica is still awake, too."

Werendril considered, but the cleric had already put her back to them and was starting down the hall. It was either a show of perfect trust, or extreme naiveté. "As you wish," he said. "Who's Anica?"

"She's my friend. A paladin of Amun -- human, if that makes any difference." She glanced back, and Werendril shrugged; he wasn't sure if it did or not.

"How far are you along?" asked Shondrelle. 

"About four months, a little less," said Aesa. "Anica, too." 

...And that was when Werendril stumbled over a perfectly flat stretch of polished stone floor. "Because of Ruin?

Aesa glanced back, but simply smiled and said, "Yes. Both of us. Not on purpose, exactly."

This is not possible, Werendril thought, and then immediately afterwards: Unless it is... There was something odd about the girl, a faint nudging at the back of his mind... "You worship Corellon, too?" he asked.

She nodded. "I'm a cleric of Amun," she said, "but my father is an elf, and I worship Corellon too. I think this might have been His idea, but He hasn't said." She shook her head and grumbled fondly, "They might have conspired against me." 

Werendril's mind spun, and he barely managed to follow her around the corner without walking into it. Ahead of them, a human woman was standing in front of a wooden door, longsword belted at her waist, swordbelt adjusted for the slight swelling of her belly.

"Anica?" called Aesa, and the other woman turned. 

"Aesa," said the human, and there was relief in her voice. "There you are." 

Aesa smiled at her. "This is Werendril, and... was it Shondrelle?"

Shondrelle nodded and smiled. "It was, it is. The wolf is Sweetfang."

Anica just nodded back. "Good to meet you as well, Sweetfang." She looked at Aesa, looked at Werendril, and then shook her head. "Why don't we step out to the practice yard? The walls have ears, in here." 

Werendril looked from one to the other, trying to see it. He could barely imagine Ruin encouraging someone to enter the priesthood. He couldn't imagine his cousin laying with a human at all. And yet... he didn't think they were lying, and he didn't think there was any confusion. So, "Let's," he said. 

The practice yard was a large, open area near the center of the monastery; statues at the corners had been imbued with light, but at this hour there were only two human priests practicing with staves, and they took one look at the approaching group and quit to the far side of the field to rack their weapons and towel off. 

"Do you mind if I ensure that we're all honest?" asked Werendril. 

Anica and Aesa exchanged a glance, then Anica said: "I'd welcome it, and I'll add mine to yours."

So Werendril cast Zone of Truth, and Anica repeated the invocation and added another layer of it. It was still distantly possible that one of them might be able to shake off the magic and lie, but it wasn't at all likely. And for all that he wanted this confirmation, Werendril didn't think they were lying. "So," he said, "apparently you both know Ruin, and apparently you're both pregnant by him? I trust you'll understand why I find this hard to believe?" 

"Because he's amazingly cranky and thinks humans are just the absolute worst?" asked Aesa, and Werendril thought, Yes, she's either met him or someone's given her very good information, before he remembered that he'd just cast Zone of Truth and the odds of her trying to deceive him were vanishingly small. Then they launched into their accounts of meeting Ruin, sparring with him, trying to kill him, seducing him, hitting him, asking the gods for help because of him, seducing him, and seducing him again. 

"I see..." he said at last. "I believe you. It's just..." He shook his head. "You took advice from a bard about how to properly apologize to a true elf?" 

Anica shrugged. "It's not as if I didn't like the idea," she said. "It's not every day someone just rips my sword right out of my hand."

Apparently Ruin didn't dislike the idea either. He still had trouble picturing it -- Ruin, laying with a human? -- but Ruin had always had a way of upsetting the table, placing all the game pieces into new and unexpected positions. Perhaps literally, in this case, he thought, and then firmly turned his back on that particular mental image. "So you're both carrying his children. That's... does he know that?"

They exchanged glances. "We're not sure. Probably not." Anica added: "I'm not sure the possibility even occurred to him."

Werendril spent a brief moment wondering if there was a spell that would let him slap the hell out of his cousin from miles away. He couldn't think of one. Corellon Larethian, help me out with this one. The answer that came back was just a sense of reassurance, a feeling that he would know what to do when it was needed. "So how much of a difficulty is this for you?"

Aesa shrugged. "The temple has a nursery. We'll raise them together. Just having the children isn't the problem. We're worried about what we don't know." 

"...Which is pretty much anything about what to expect when raising elvish children," added Anica. "And Ruin being a true elf, we're expecting... a lot of elvishness."

"That's not so hard," said Shondrelle. "They'll develop more slowly than you expect, but if you know that you can make allowances for it. And they'll be better at some things than you might expect, perhaps worse at others, but that is very much the way that raising children goes."

Aesa met her eyes. "Do you have any children?" 

Shondrelle nodded. "Three. My husbands are caring for them while I assist the Order."

Werendril crossed his arms and sighed. "I can get word to Ruin's mother, or his twin brother, if that's what you want. To Ruin himself, given time. Is that what you want?"

Aesa nodded. "I don't think it's fair not to tell Ruin, and the children should definitely know the rest of their family."

Anica added: "And we want them to learn the sorts of things that young elves should learn, too."

Aesa hesitated a moment, then added: "And if you're in the mood to do favors, well... my father is Jerivir Quindillan. He fled to Duendewood a year ago -- just before I came here. I'd like to know if he's well, and I'd like him to know that I'm well."

Werendil straightened. "Very well. Let me see what I can do." 

I'm thinking that Wood Elves like Shondrelle frequently marry in small clusters, as do wild elves. True Elves and common elves generally don't, but don't see anything wrong with the practice; Grey Elves, on the other hand, mostly consider it shocking and outrageous.

Also? I'm thinking of Aesa as being about twenty-six and Anica being about twenty-four, but given the difference in the way humans and half-elves age, Anica is actually more mature and something of an older sister to Aesa. She's also, in game terms, substantially higher level. 

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