Naivara ignored the shouting.
She had learned quickly that if she attempted to answer every question. To soothe every trouble. To entertain every desperate visitor to her chambers then she would be unable to fulfill the true obligations of her office. Court Wizard was an old title and an ancient position. Magic and politics woven together in a tapestry of desire, greed, and status. She dined with nobles. She spoke familiarly with royalty. People trusted her. Many of them relied on her. There was power in politics. Power that sometimes seemed far greater than that of even the most powerful spells. She found it distasteful. She found it frustrating. To hold her tongue to avoid causing dangerous feelings of offense in the heart of some upstart princeling proposing yet another foolish scheme that would only lead to great bloodshed.
She found herself longing for simpler times. For long days spent reading arcane tomes by magelight in some darkened library with bookshelves reaching up to rafters. For her travels with a ragtag group of adventures that had become her well remembered companions. For her energetic conversations with Eskel about the nature of magic and the very planes of existence themselves. And for Octavia, poor Octavia, now only a story, a legend spoken about in lofty tones, but she had been a living being once...and her friend.
"Court Wizard! Please! I must speak with you!" came the shout, increasingly desperate, and this time accompanied with a loud knock. Naivara paused her writing. The spells that she had carved into the locking mechanism of the door meant that it would not open unless she released the small wisp of magic she had charged the bolt with when she entered the room. All of her servants knew this. They knew she did not like to be disturbed. Politics was a complicated profession. Delicate diplomatic matters required a gentle hand and carefully composed letters. The lord baron of Thornhold would have to wait for his letter. His conflict with the viscount of Maldorn, called the city of joy by many a learned traveler, would have to wait.
It was not yet a war. It was not yet even a true conflict. But she could see the rising tension. She could sense the danger. One slight could easily lead to another. One war could easily give rise to another. An endless cycle. There was no easy escape from violence...distant or immediate past ...it did not matter...they all paid for the violence their own violence and that of their ancestors. It was not her job to stop them. Her duties, in fact, often demanded quite the opposite. However, Naivara did what she could. She did what she had to do. She did what Octavia would have wanted her to do.
Folding her half written letter neatly into a nearby satchel, Naivara rose to her feet with a slow sigh as she straightened out her flowing dress. A decidedly impractical outfit she reflected, reflecting the obvious contempt for practicality espoused by the nobility. Cut from the finest silk dyed a deep blue that matched her enchanting palette, the floor length gown had been sewn by a collection of some of the finest dressmakers in Bradena. It had cost a small fortune, even before silver thread had been embroidered into the gown until ornamental bands of shimmering metal decorated the sleeve borders, neckline, and bottom half of the dress. The low V-neckline that ended just under her bust would have been scandalous indeed, had she not been wearing a round cut underdress beneath to avoid showing too much. Such details struck her as deeply unnecessary, bordering on painfully vain, but it was the style of fashion favored for some time now at court.
The aristocratic garb unmistakably reflected her position as Court Wizard. Naivara had changed. She had changed much since her time with Octavia and her gallant sellswords. Gone was the mousy wizard wrapped in simple robes, a gentle creature more fond of quiet places and arcane writings than the bustle of a great city or the scheming that endlessly flowed through the throne room. Naivara had learned. She had grown. She had adapted to her new station.
For all that lengthy dinners and formal social functions annoyed her, Naivara had come to believe that she could nurture change in the realms, true change, only if she continued to rise upwards. She couldn't stay the same. She couldn't bury herself in books and memories. It wasn't what Octavia would have wanted. It wasn't what she wanted. So she wore two rings forged by master craftsman, the dwarfs residing in the far away Grey Mountains, elaborate earrings, soft oaks of silver, and around her neck hung a matching necklace holding a sapphire jewel that seemed to dangle on impossibly thin leaves of silver that seemed to sway with the wind.
These were mere props, Naivara reminded herself. Tools she had to utilize. She had become an actress in the old elven tradition. And a dedicated student of the behavior and minds of those around her.
Still, she almost burst into laughter looking at herself in the full length mirror that stood in one corner of her chambers. Who would have believed it? Naivara Amakiir had turned into a proper lady after all. And it had taken several centuries less than her mother had angrily scolded her that it would take.
"Forgive me, I was wool gathering," Naivara lied, dispelling her spell with a wave of her hand. Her servant, a young half-elf woman named Orehl, burst into the room with a panicked look on her face. Deeply uncharacteristic, Naivara noted with some concern, Orehl was an old hand at their game. Her father had been a courtier. His father before him. His mother before him. She understood the waning and waxing of the court instinctively, as a bird unthinkingly understood the movements of the wind beneath its wings. She was not easily startled and she was not easily frightened. Naivara smiled, trying to ease her pacing handmaiden.
"It's the council! There's a problem! A big one! Eskel, Eskel Rindarium has returned to Bradena. He is at the guildhall of the Mage Guild Association."
Naivara raised an eyebrow quizzically, studying her servant,"Eskel has returned? That is most unlike him. I did not expect him to grace the council with his presence. Especially considering the nature of the summons they sent him. I had told them as much. Eskel is a man of many moods, but he does not suffer foolishness lightly."
"I am afraid your predictions held true, Court Wizard," Orehl replied, wringing her hands together in nervous habit that Naivara had counseled her to control. "He has refused to speak to the council. He...he said that he had no time for them and their pointless posturing...they did not take this news well."
Despite the fallout such blunt words were likely to create, Naivara could not help but laugh, "Ah, well, now that is certainly more like the Eskel I remember. But if he is not here to settle matters with the council, then what brings him to Bradena? He was never one to waste time on social calls."
"He has requested to speak with you, Court Wizard. He has demanded to speak to Naivara Amakiir."
"For what reason?" Naivara said, feeling a growing sense of dread as her suspicions began to take shape into an unwelcome deduction. Her encounter with the strange reporter, the cultist had not strayed far from her mind. She could sense danger. Anyone could have and should have knowing what she knew. They had not defeated every evil that inflicted the realms. Some followers of the eldritch dragon no doubt remained.
"He will not say, but he said that matter was grave, he claims that the realms whole are in danger. Furthermore, there is some concern regarding his presence in the city. I am told that the council has been arguing for several hours. They are angry, very angry. Alzzan Stormroot threatened to demolish the building entire if Eskel did not emerge to answer the council's charges."
"A most unwise choice."
"Indeed, Court Wizard, Melerina Whiteflame said as much. She convinced the council to pursue an alternative approach," bowing low, Orehl approached and handed Naivara a letter sealed with the emblem of the ancient arch-mage. Naivara opened it half-heartedly with a nearby letter knife, feeling a sudden weariness overtake her, as she stared at the letter, unwilling to read the words that would force her to act.
"My pardons, Court Wizard, my many pardons," Orehl began, her voice shifting to the formal patterns of the court, "The council tasks you, Naivara Amakiir, Arch-Mage and honorable servant of this kingdom, with resolving the current problems presented by the presence of the suspected necromancer known as Eskel Rindarium in the city of Bradena. With full faith in your abilities, the council suggests that you resolve this serious matter in accordance with your best judgments. This esteemed body of mages is eager to see peace speedily restored and the regular functions of the Mages Guild Association to once more continue uninterrupted."
"Captain," Naivara said, nodding at the knight resting lazily against a nearby wall. He was an unassuming man. Older than his forty years. Covered with scars and exotic ink patterns. A great mercenary once, Kavdahl, was a man with a tongue as sharp as the many blades he carried on his person. He was a cruel man. He was a man of more evils than Naivara preferred to remember. A necessary evil, some said, just the sort of man to lead the town guard, a man who knew both sides of the law in equal measure. And a man who did not shy from doing what was required to maintain the peace.
"Ah, a sight for sore eyes!" Kavdahl began, standing to his full height and raising his arms in false gratitude and benediction. "I told you boys, we would not be left out to dry. They send us no more mageling to deal with this mad spellcaster. No, no, the council sends us Naivara of the Hellish Rebuke, to burn this unwelcome menace out of our fair city."
"Kavdahl," Naivara said sweetly, her hands gesturing towards the docks, "Kindly leave before I show you why exactly I am called by those words you so cheerfully cast upon me. Your fine gold inlaid armor will do nothing against the flames of hell."
"I have seen hell, Court Wizard, many times, many times and more still," Kavdahl said with a broad smile, drawing even closer to Naivara, "All the demons and devils of hell itself would not accept me. Too kind they said. Too strong. And far too brave."
"A pity, I am sure you would have fit right in among such an esteemed company of horrors."
"I can only agree, however there is still more time to earn my place," Kavdahl replied, his mood brightening as he continued,"Respectful, as I assuredly am, of one as powerful as you, I am afraid, Court Wizard, that I cannot possibly leave. You see...the council desired for us to accompany you to ensure your safety. They expressed some concern regarding the threat that your old friend poses to not just our beautiful city, but to your very person."
"I do not need you to protect me, Kavdahl. Certainly not from Eskel. Have you forgotten who he is? Do you recall nothing of his service to the realms? Few have paid a price as heavy as Eskel. And fewer still so willingly."
"Spare me the lecture, Court Wizard," Kavdahl replied with a low, cruel laugh,"I've heard the rumors, same as you. I have read the reports, same as you. The council has informed me, same as you. Necromancy? Such magic is no trifling matter! Hero or villain, it matters not. Your friend is mad. Your friend commands unholy magic. Your friend is no longer your friend. And I have no interest in letting him run amok in my city because of your fondness for a walking shade."
"You judge him quite poorly, Kavdahl, and very unfairly," Naivara said, making no effort to hide the sadness in her voice, "And this is not your city, it never was. You will stay here. Your soldiers will stay here. Follow me and you will find yourself chained to the ground."
"Naivara, you do not give the-" Kavdahl began his voice rising with irritation.
The silence spell hit Kavdahl before he finished his sentence and Naivara shook her head slowly at him. Kavdahl shrugged, flashing a golden smile at her, gleaming teeth glistening with awful mirth. Naivara hated few men as much as she hated Kavdahl and the man knowing this, seemed to relish her hatred even more.
"Yes, Court Wizard?"
"Let us not keep Eskel waiting any longer. There has been more than enough foolishness for one day."
"Of course, Court wizard."
The great oak door of the Mage Guild Association opened slowly. Naivara stood for a moment, staring at the carved faces of respected mages, long passed, that started down at her. What would they have done? Naivara wondered. How would they have dealt with Eskel? She considered this solemnly and was left with precious few happy thoughts.
With Octavia dead, the party had fractured. The partings had been full of sorrow and bitter regret. Yet none had pained her so much as her last conversation with Eskel. They had parted ways poorly. They had almost come to blows.
She had been close with the other wizard. She had considered him a valued colleague. She still did. She still nursed a small hope that he had found some peace... that he had found a gentler purpose. She had considered him a close friend. He understood her. He understood magic. He understood the way that many looked at practitioners of the arcane. He had understood her sadness. He had understood how she felt. The pain of being tolerated when she was needed, but feared and hated when she was not.
They had shared such great hopes. They had shared such wonderful dreams for the future. He had smiled once. She had seen the way he had looked at Octavia. The change in his manners when she spoke to him. The look in his eyes and the stolen glances. She had felt his grief. Her feelings for Octavia, though love eternal, were not the same as his, but she understood nonetheless. She had her own regrets. She had her own sorrows. She had lost in her own way. She did not judge Eskel for these feelings of greif. She only saw him with the kind eyes of a friend. Or so she wished. She knew more. She knew better. She had a duty. She had responsibilities. She could not let affection blind her. She suspected that Eskel had fallen...and she feared that the only question that remained to answer was how far.
Flashes of their argument burned through her mind. Naivara shivered, feeling smoldering coals anger in her heart as she stepped forward.
He had called her a coward. He had demanded she help him. He had almost uttered the words. He had almost suggested they bring her back. She had shouted. She had raised her voice before he could explain his plan. She had stopped hi before he could detail his research. She did not want to hear. She could not. She could not accept it. If she knew his intentions to be true, then she knew she had to act.
Magic had destroyed a city. Magic had almost destroyed the world. There were rules that had to be respected. There were lines that were not meant to be crossed. She missed Octavia. She would have given anything to save her friend. But Eskel asked too much. Eskel, Eskel out of all people should have known better. He knew what he was asking of her. He alone knew the damnation that he wanted her to shoulder. The curses he wanted her to cheerfully speak. The evil that he wanted her to unleash to satisfy his own desperate need. She would have called it unforgivable. She might have have once, although no longer. But understanding changed little.
A familiar figure stood unmoving in the guildhall, just past the doors, shrouded in black robes and with the paleness of the grave upon him. Anguish filled the heart of the moon elf has she studied her friend. Any hope of quiet acceptance quickly faded as she saw only signs of bitter grief. Eskel looked haggard, a tapestry frayed at the edges and unraveling further still. Moving closer, Naivara stopped in front of Eskel, her silver staff clinking quietly against the elegant floor tiling.
Turquoise eyes shone with warm embers of uncontained and unhidden affection as she spoke,"Hello old friend. So here we are. You have worried quite a few people, but I am glad, so very glad to see you again. It has been far too long!"
Characters mentioned in this post: Eskel Rindarium @Kassarock