Merena glanced ahead, where Keto allowed Kylia to chase her in haphazard circles. “Am I doing the right thing?”
“You wanted to bring Kylia along,” Nalia reminded her. “I would have happily remained at the cabin with her.”
“I know, and I appreciate that you offered, but…” Merena’s brow furrowed. “It troubles Kylia that her father has been gone so long. Sometimes I think she’s more difficult because she doesn’t understand why he hasn’t been at home. Sometimes, I think she’s angry with me for being the one who’s left behind.”
“That can’t be true,” Nalia argued. “She’s only two. She couldn’t reason so much into Kelsey’s absence.” She placed a hand on Merena’s arm and offered a comforting smile. “She loves you.”
“Yes, but I’m the boss. Always ‘Boss,’ never ‘Mommy.’” Merena gave a small, sad nod. “But I’m the one she trusts. That’s why I couldn’t leave her behind, even though it’s dangerous, even though I don’t know what I’m going to say or do…” She rolled her shoulders in a circle, closing her eyes, as if she could will the tension away. “I didn’t think before. I didn’t consider how an absent father might affect my child. Now that I understand, I couldn’t do that to her knowingly. Not again.”
“Does that mean you’re not planning on, well, when we locate Kelsey…” Nalia said carefully.
“I don’t know!” Merena wailed. “I meant what I said yesterday. Violence… violence doesn’t fill me like it used to. The bloodlust is gone, and I… I almost… miss it. It came with a fierce certainty that fed me. Not that I’m not furious with him. I am. I want to scream. I want to cry…”
“I wanna kill ‘im!” Imoen announced, lifting her attention from reading Myrtle’s diary. “I know it hurts, Sis, but I gotta say it: you married a tramp.” Imoen wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Sure, he flirted with everything in the party that wore a skirt and Keto, too, but this!“
“What?! You never mentioned that to me!” Merena said accusingly.
Imoen shrugged. “You were too busy mooning over the guy to care.”
Merena turned to Nalia. “You knew?”
“Well… he wanted to discuss pointers in using magic once… over dinner.” Nalia flushed. “I thought he was being friendly!” she added insistently. “But the next time we spoke, it was, ‘you have nice hands, Nalia,” and ‘you have lovely eyes, Nalia” -- I just didn’t know what to think!”
“You shouldn’t have thought,” Merena countered. “You should have told me.”
“Ha!” Imoen snorted. “It wouldn’t have done any good, what with you so intent on playing ‘search and rescue’ with his tonsils.”
“I… I…” Merena scowled. “You’re such a brat. What does the diary say?”
“Kelsey is a very, very bad man. And a cheaper date than you. And, boy, it’s a wonder he got any sleep!”
“You’re not helping, Imoen,” Nalia lectured. “She doesn’t need a blow by blow… *ahem*… of Kelsey’s perfidy.”
“Maybe I do,” Merena countered. “To scour the wound, or make me really livid, or make me anything than this… this… emotional ooze!” She held out one hand, and Imoen passed her the journal. Slowly flipping the pages as they walked, she broke the silence with intermittent sounds of shock and sadness. “Kelsey…” she moaned softly. “Oh, Kelsey…” Merena pressed the open pages to her breast, her features stark with discovery. “You’re absolutely right, Imoen. I married a slut!”
She began ticking through the diary’s confessions again. “He even fooled around with Myrtle. He told her she was the perfect height.” Merena let out a small cry. “This is horrible. I can still see how it happened...”
“You can see how it happened?! No. No, you can’t.” Nalia shook her head in protest. “Merena, I just don’t think it will help anyone, especially you, to wallow in that… that filth! Kelsey is a despicable bounder. Can’t we leave it at that and move on?”
Merena stubbornly tapped the page she was perusing. “No, Nalia. There’s an interesting bit here about Kelsey leaving their group. He seems to have grown critical of them for not being very heroic. Just like I told Talice.” She hugged a tiny satisfied smile to herself. “My husband may be easy, but he’s not dumb. It sounds like the final straw was the loot divvying. Kelsey wanted to give a lion’s share to the villagers and townspeople who’d lost their homes in the Talassans’ rampage, and the greedy gals were having none of it.” Merena winked conspiratorially at Nalia. “What do you make of that?”
“Even despicable bounders get it right once in a while,” Nalia said primly.
“Uh, guys?” Keto called back to them. “I think you’d better see this!”
Merena broke into a sprint, jogged over the rise, then promptly tripped over her own feet at the view.
Kylia padded over to her mother and sternly rubbed Merena’s forehead clean of a smear of grass. “Boss,” she whispered, pointing. “Did you see the naked ladies?”
Merena shook off the swirling dizzy lights dancing before her eyes. “Hard to miss them, my lovely.” She eased to her feet and took her daughter’s hand. “Let’s go say ‘hello,’ shall we?”
The trio of sirines stood in a semi-circle, their skin moist and shimmering as if they’d just emerged from the sea. Their hair rippled in waves about their shoulders, decorated with tiny seashells and flowers. Otherwise, they were unerringly, unequivocally, and spellbindingly starkers.
“Hi.” Merena struggled for a moment to retain her train of thought. She had difficulty keeping her eyes trained on their faces: their piquant noses, their delicate cheekbones, their mesmerizing eyes, their succulent lips… “Right. Hi. Sil, isn’t it?”
“Greetings, godchild.” Sil dipped her chin demurely, and the other nymphs shifted, one trailing lazy glyphs around her own navel, the other stretching her arms over her head with a happy sigh as she pushed her chest forward in prominent display. “My sisters and I welcome you.”
“Oh, I’m not a godchild anymore.” Merena laughed nervously. “That was just a phase.”
The sirines tilted their heads curiously.
“Teenage kind of phase,” Merena chattered. “I got over it.” She tousled Kylia’s hair. “This is my daughter, Kylia. Kylia, this is Sil. Mommy helped Sil chase naughty pirates away from her home many years ago.”
“You’re not wearing clothes.” Kylia nodded sagely.
“Dryads do not wear any clothes anymore,” Sil announced. “We have returned to the old ways. It was the suggestion of Kelsey, the sorcerer.”
The sirine to her left jiggled and repeated in a dreamy voice, “Kelsey.”
“Kelsey,” the one on the right echoed.
“Kelsey,” Merena sighed.
“Oh, yeah,” Imoen observed. “I can totally see how that
The sirine on the left slinked forward and gently caressed Kylia’s cheek. “I am Ven. What a scrumptious child. Have you brought her as a gift? She could be our handmaiden.”
“Aye,” Keto said bemusedly, “naked pulls the short straw for carrying. You need somebody with pockets.”
” Merena protested, tearing her senses away from the salty perfume of Ven’s hair to glower crossly at Keto. “We’re not giving away my daughter! We’re just passing through. We stopped for a chat!”
The sirine on the right fiddled with a lock of her hair, twirling it above one jutting nipple. “Ven! Sil! She is upset! I sense conflict!”
“Calm yourself, Bes. All will be well. It is just the angry talk of clothed mortals, as Kelsey explained.” Sil opened her arms in regal command. “We will only speak with the naked. It is the new Dryad Law.”
“Yes,” Bes echoed. “Disrobe yourselves!”
“What?” Merena gaped.
“Talking is for the naked!” Ven repeated.
“I really think that is an improper suggestion,” Nalia complained. “Even for dryads. Surely sheer gossamer would be more tasteful.”
“Silence, clothed one!”
Merena dropped her pack to the ground and began to untie the hide lacings on her jerkin. “Maybe you’d like to take Kylia on ahead to pick flowers, Nalia, while we… uh, talk to the dryads?”
“I’ll go with them,” Keto added. “There’s probably not enough nudity in Faerûn to justify my chatterbox.”
“What say you, Imoen?” Merena asked.
“Naked-schmaked. I’m staying,” Imoen replied as she pulled off her boots. “Heya, wouldn’t it have been fun if Sir Keldorn was here? I’ve really gotta make a map of this place…”
“So…” Merena said as she shimmied out of her leggings. “Here we are. All sisters, all nude. Tell me more about this Kelsey person and the angry talk of clothed mortals.”
“Oh, yes!” Bes bounced. “Let us tell her, sisters!”
“Yes!” Ven clapped. “It’s a delicious tale!”
“Come,” Sil commanded. “We shall lounge and communicate at leisure.”
The sirines led them to a grotto lined with kelp that was surprisingly soft. Imoen dropped to her knees, picking up one leaf and flipping it over to study the striation pattern. Ven settled beside her and offered her chest as a pillow. Imoen waved the leaf at her, shooing the nymph away. “Nope, I’m fine. Two breasts, all I need for the moment.” Imoen smirked at Merena. “Hey, ask her if ‘talking must be lying down’ was another Coltrane brainstorm.”
“Cut it out, brat. I’ll smack you, naked or not.”
“When last we met,” Sil began, arching her back as she reposed on the bed of kelp, “you witnessed our troubles with the seafaring mortals. You gave us assistance, but the methods resulted in fighting and death.” She shuddered prettily. “Such an unpleasant affair.”
“That did not cease the discord, understand,” Bes continued as she idly stroked Merena’s calf. “Other men took their place, abusing our coastline with their pollution and criminal trade.”
“What were we to do?” Ven fluttered her fingertips anxiously and began to knead Imoen’s shoulders for comfort. “It was a vicious time. The violence never ended. There was only anger and bitterness as we battled over territory!”
“We were transforming into creatures of destruction,” Sil said languidly. She flexed her hips and stretched a second time. “We lived in fear that they would challenge our power. We came close to hating mortal men.”
“We didn’t want to hate men,” Bes assured them. “They are such fragile creatures, so aggressive, so prone to the tide and sways of their urges. How easily they wander into conflict…”
“Yes, men are upsetting creatures, but it would be unfair to persecute them,” Ven said. “They cannot help it that they were born flawed and vulnerable.”
“But to become like them,” Sil finished, “when we are capable of such beauty, strength and generosity… that would be our unforgivable crime.”
“Kelsey reminded us of that. He saved us!” Bes chirped.
“Oh, yes!” Ven gushed. “He saved us!”
Merena nodded knowingly. “By suggesting you take your clothes off.”
“Exactly!” Sil rolled to one side, propping herself on one elbow as her hair tumbled delightfully about her shoulders. “Kelsey was extraordinary for a mortal man. He truly seemed to empathize with how we felt.”
“By suggesting you take your clothes off,” Merena repeated.
“Don’t you see?” Sil said plaintively. “We had forgotten
the old ways. Nymphs used to enjoy frolicking naked across the countryside, luring mortals into carnal delights!”
“The world spun, years fled, and everything had changed,” Bes explained with such sorrow, her eyes sparkled. “Suddenly, being captured by a wizard and forced to become his concubine was branded a bad
thing. Suddenly, we were expected to protest incarcerations, fight our enemies, and, worst of all, cover our bodies with gossamer for the sake of some madness they call ‘decency’! We were supposed to feel guilty
that mortal men desired us. We were supposed to rail against it!”
“But Kelsey fixed all that!” Imoen pointed out cheerfully.
“By suggesting you take your clothes off,” Merena repeated.
“Oh, yes,” Bes said. “We needed help identifying a peaceful method to coexist with mortal men again, and Kelsey showed us the way. He confessed he found it impossible to argue with a beautiful naked goddess.”
Merena grunted. “Yes, I’ve heard that rumor before.”
“And he was correct!” Sil said jubilantly. “The pirates grew infinitely more docile and open to persuasion when we threw aside our garments. The company of mortal men became pleasurable again!”
“As peace and earthly delights returned to our lives,” Ven continued, trailing her hands along Imoen’s bare arms before descending to tickle her stomach, “we decided upon the Rule of Talking. Mortals cover themselves in barriers of cloth and metal and don their weapons… it makes them harsh and fierce. Their personalities change when they unclothe.”
“That does it,” Imoen giggled. “I’m definitely tricking Keldorn into a visit.”
“So Kelsey remained here a while,” Merena concluded. “To help you… talk… more effectively.”
“Oh, yes,” Bes nodded. “We talked a great deal with Kelsey. It was most pleasurable.”
“Sis.” Imoen leaned over to whisper a warning in Merena’s ear. “If we talk to them much more, I’m gonna to have to make Ven pancakes for breakfast.”
“Mmm…I hear you,” Merena replied in a quivery voice. “Bes is doing something to my knees that implies a preponderance of vowels in our future.”
“So… what are we gonna do?”
“Yes…” Sil’s lament broke into the sisters’ muddled deliberation. “Kelsey might still be with us if it hadn’t been for the arrival of the heiress.”
Imoen and Merena straightened, cold-water focused, and chorused, “What heiress?!
“Oh, she was terribly abused,” Sil recalled. “In her heart, you see. She traveled with a man, a most displeasing, disrespectful bard…”
“Even when he was naked,” Ven qualified.
“Kelsey decided that she needed his help more than we did,” Sil explained. “We did not blame him for leaving; we understood. For all that Eldoth would talk, he did not have much of value to say. He went through the motions of the talking. We were not fooled. He had to be subdued in one way or another.”
“The heiress traveled with Eldoth
?!” Merena scrambled to her feet, gathering clothes to her chest as she padded out of the grotto. “I hate her, hate her, hate her
!” Merena cursed as she stubbed a toe. “Dammit!” Hopping out of the grotto commenced. “Stupid… naked… feet!”
Imoen gathered her leathers as well, pausing to shake each nymph’s hand in farewell. “Don’t mind her. She’s just having a fit of manly urges. It’ll pass.”
“Return when you can,” Sil said graciously. “We will finish our conversation.”
“Bring your friends!” Ven and Bes called.
“Cook!” Skie Silvershield called down the palatial stairs. “Where are my cloudberries?! I am famished!” She pouted at the continued lack of reply, tapping one slipper-clad foot impatiently as she tightened the feather-trimmed belt of her robe around her slender waist. “Lazy servants! Why do I put up with them? They just don’t care about my needs!”
With an aggravated huff, Skie bustled down the stairs. As she turned on the landing, Skie noticed four figures waiting at the foot of the stairs. “Ugh, Merena. What are you doing here?” Her sulking expression resurfaced. “I know we are acquaintances, but my guards should have turned you away, fleas and all. I am otherwise occupied today. Hmph!”
“Occupied with what, may I ask?” Merena asked smoothly.
“What an impertinent question! You… you… gatecrashers!” Skie stomped two steps lower and shook a dainty fist. “If you must know,” she declared in a supercilious tone, “I am studying Amnish trade markets.”
“In Calimshite silks?” Nalia said, giving Skie’s haughty air a run for the gold. “Really.
“Look,” Skie huffed. “I don’t know half of you, but you all strike me as rough trade. I’m very busy, and if you tarry, you are going to give me frown lines. Begone!” At that moment, Skie caught a glimpse of Kylia peering around her mother’s leg. “Eek! Who brought a child in here? They are cesspools of stains and disease, you know. Don’t let it near me!”
“Sweetie,” Merena confided to her daughter. “Daddy’s upstairs. Why don’t you hunt him down? Aunt Immy and I will help, okay?”
“Daddy?” Kylia considered this information seriously. “Okay, Boss.” She climbed up the stairs as fast as her little legs would toddle.
“Keep it away!” Skie shrieked, fleeing in the opposite direction and taking cover behind Keto. “What have you done!? I’ll have to have the place disinfected! Warded! Redecorated!” A pause. “Mmm!”
Kylia, meanwhile, rustled through the hallways of the Silvershield Estate, her mother and aunt not far behind. “Daddy!” She tiptoed into an ostentatious sitting room. Peeking through the curtains into the arched vestibule, she whispered an awed, “Daddy?”
“Daddy!” Giving a squeal of triumph, Kylia bounded into the boudoir with a surge of excitement. “You’re here! We found you! You’re found!” The little girl scurried onto the bed and smothered her father in an exuberant hug, which Kelsey returned with bemused and awkward surprise.
“I’m glad to see you, too, kiddo. Wow. You’ve grown faster than the import duties on flax.” He grinned and bundled her into a second enthusiastic hug. “I’ve missed you so… much
After a few patient moments, Kylia pushed at Kelsey’s arms and sat back on her heels. “I’m big now,” she declared as she studied her father critically. Her gaze narrowed on his bare chest. She gradually began to inch off the mattress, her round face creasing into a frown, then misery. Finally, the child wailed her pathos and jumped off the bed. “No!” She flung her small body at her mother, who watched surreptitiously from the doorway. “NOOO!!”
“Mommy!” Kylia sobbed. “Daddy’s been talking to a dryad!”
Kelsey shuffled uncomfortably, wrapped the bed sheet around his waist, and began a desperate search for his robe. “Oh, gosh. Where’d she find out about that
Merena gasped in wonder, squeezing her daughter tightly. “Who cares? She called me ‘Mommy’!” Merena laughed and swooped her daughter off the ground, twirling her in a circle. “She never calls me that!” They bobbed to a dizzy stop, and Merena pointed matter-of-factly at her disheveled husband. “Now you’re really in trouble! Ha!”
“Merena.” Kelsey paused, drank in the sight of his wife for a stunned minute, then cleared his throat, looking stoically penitent. “Honey, I know you’re probably very upset about now, and you’ve a right to be, believe me!” He grimaced. “That was probably the wrong way to say that, wasn’t it?”
Merena smiled enigmatically. “Imoen… why don’t you take Kylia downstairs? Let her play with Skie while I have a talk with my husband. I’m sure that will be fun for everyone.”
Imoen offered a snappy salute. “Gotcha, Sis!” She tacked on a murmured, “You want I should leave you anything sharp?”
“Thank you, Imoen, but I’ve got my own.”
Kelsey hunted under the chairs and behind the vanity in between aiming wary looks at his serenely smiling wife. He found his robes stuffed between a pair of suspiciously squashed cushions littering the rug. “Great. I’m surpassing myself this time,” he muttered, dragging the fabric roughly over his head.
“No, no, no!” Merena chided. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m getting dressed,” Kelsey said morosely, “so we can have it out.”
“Oh, no, you’re not.”
Kelsey waved one arm futilely. “We have to talk, argue, whatever! Merena,” he said slowly. “You must be angry, but I’m not going to come to blows over this. However we end, I won’t be a part of that. So, crush my skull if it will make you feel better. Cover me in honey and leave me on a hill of fire ants - I won’t defend myself.”
“Oh, Kelsey.” Merena shook her head and unsheathed her hunting knife. “You’re forgetting the rules.”
So what happens next?
I'll be adding links to the different endings posted on the board, starting with:The End of Bons
- Shut up and talk.The End of Ghreyfain
- 4 out of 5 cats and retired vaudevillians prefer it!The End of jcompton
- No, sorry, not what you were hoping for.The End of alasafan (nevar!!1)
- OMG!!!111 Cunning + charm!The End of Eral
- Never trust a salesman.The End of Earnest Yetbadd
- Everyone should try Tutu. Really!THE END OF CORVIS
- Your daily dose of hate! The Farcical End of jcompton
- Too much of a good thing.The End of Queen Akasha
- Just a small prick...The End of Celissa
- The essence of an ending.