Notes from my_irrational_side:
OK. This is something on my chest for a while and I felt the need to get it out, so here it is. I like the Baldur's Gate series of computer role-playing games, especially being a former AD&D nut. It managed to bring me from a long hiatus back to playing games back on the PC. I love the NPC interaction, but found the romances are too contrived. I mean, the romance with Aerie was almost the mechanical oh-you-big-boy-come-love-vulnerable-me type. And Jaheira! I will flee as soon as I can from one who will hit on me a few days after her long-time husband departed! Good grief! I have not romanced Viconia, so I cannot speak much about it. I should add here that I think Black Isle Studios (BIS) has done a great thing by allowing romance, and I think they deserve a lot of credit for that. (I feel like criticising gold because it is not diamonds here, but please bear with me.)
But that is avoiding the point : I think Imoen is a much more interesting person to have a romance with. OK, before some of you "she-is-your-sister-nitwit" flame me to Hell for that, I hurry to add that I realize it is complicated and controversial to be have a romance with the undertones of incest behind it. Of course, that is exactly why I think romancing Imoen is more more interesting instead of the "safe" types we get in the game. Which is also the reason, I wager, that BIS avoided it too.
Now, I am not advocating incest. But is it that clear-cut? Nothing is more boring than imposing our own real world "cultural morals" to the actions of our imagined protaganists. Well then, let's ask this question scientifically. Is Bhaal's essence genetic in nature? Then if Imoen and the protaganist's mother is the one and same, then they are full siblings. If not, they are just half-siblings (genetically equivalent to being first cousins which do not stop them from getting married*). It gets more interesting to ask the question what if the protaganist is an Elf? Is Human genes dominant over Elven ones? Is Bhaal's essence dominant over Human and Elven ones? More disgustingly, if you can cross a Human with a rabbit, is mating the protaganist with the Bhaalspawn rabbits in Throne of Bhaal constitutes incest? I ask rhetorical questions about an impossible quagmire. But that's my point exactly : we don't know the answer. Neither did the characters.
Which means it gives us interesting story-telling opportunities. So here I tell one.
I wanted a straight love story at first, but as I write it, the characters introduced themselves to me in a surprising way. So the "straight" love story slowly transformed itself into a story that mirrors the ambiguities that they found themselves in.
Enough pretentiousness! Please read it, and critique it!
*I know this is illegal in the US. But that is a cultural taboo, not a medical one. For example Chinese culture forbids marriage between children of brothers, but allows marriage between children of sisters. Even in America, (effectively) first cousin marriages were actually prefered in old American Indian cultures. I said "effectively", because American Indian cultures have a different concept of what is "next-of-kin" and things like that. There are other examples. We should worry only about genetics, and not culture.
It was dark all around and Imoen could not see beyond the pale misty gossamer that hung around her. The air hung stale, and a strong odor reeks of burning cinder. The darkness was impenetrable, as though as if one was staring into the void of nothingness itself. She stood there for a while, not knowing what has befallen her friends.
"There is no point in standing around I guess!" she thought. Walky-walky, feet!"
She reached for her sword, just in case, and to her surprise she found that it was not there.
"Hrmmmh! What carelessness!" she whispered to herself, more annoyed than alarmed. "No matter! Have to move anyhow!"
She took a few ginger steps forward. Her footsteps echoed loudly on the hard cobblestone floor despite her best efforts to keep quiet, which annoyed her even more. All this magick-practicing has dulled her thieving senses no doubt! She made a mental note to go and steal old Elminster's red robes tomorrow for practice.
It was not long before she began to feel as though the darkness was sucking her in. The stillness oppressed her senses which was used to motion and sound. Eventually, she came upon a large wheel standing alone, upright with one side facing her. It was a few feet taller than her, with dense iron spokes clinging tightly on a thick wooden rim. She approached it warily, and finally stood before it.
Now, this is puzzling! And I thought I have seen them all!"she mused aloud, no longer worried about alerting anybody. "Hey! What is this?"
On one of the spokes hung a mean looking iron chain of many links. She reached for it, and found that the very same chain she was investigating chained her wrists. She panicked and tried to tear her arms away from the wheel, but it seemed that the chain became tighter the harder she struggled.
"Let go of me!"she screamed, but the chain only tightened. "Let me go!"
"I want to. But is there really nothing now between us?" spoke a voice. It was cold, devoid of feeling, and utterly condescending. "Then I should let you go."
"Irenicus!" she screamed in horror when she recognized the expressionless face of the man who tormented her so long ago, staring from beyond the prison of spokes. Her thrashing became more frantic."No!"
"Yes. That is my name now, isn't it, Ellisime?" replied Irenicus.
"Irenicus! Let me go! I don't have what you wanted!" pleaded Imoen, pulling herself away from the wheel. The chain did not yield. It began to draw blood. "I don't have what you wanted!"
"But what do I want, Ellisime?" said Irenicus as their eyes locked, yet Imoen felt as though as he was looking right through her. "You love me still, with that soft heart of yours. Search inside yourself."
"No! That's not true! I don't love you!" screamed Imoen, eyes wide open in horror. But she knew it was a lie. She fell on her knees, chained wrists clasped tightly together upon her forehead. She looked up to see Irenicus watching her in an almost casual way. She wanted to hate and loath, but those feelings were not there. Instead, for a moment, she felt...concern. And care. And...love. It was too much, and all her other senses rebelled in horror. She screamed. "I don't love you! I don't have what you wanted!"
"As for not having what I wanted, you are right. You don't. Because I don't want it," said Irenicus. But his unfeeling words belie a hint of resignation. "But _you_ wanted something from me that I don't have"
Each word he uttered inflicted a deep wound on her heart, and it was cut to many pieces. She struggled weakly against believing him, not wanting to face the demon of betrayal. But she found no more strength to fight. She gave up and let despair overwhelmed her. There was no defense from the pain save one and she chose it. "I don't want to love you." Blood dripped onto her forehead and mixed with her tears before flowing onto her cheeks."I don't love anyone!"
"Not after you loved me," replied Irenicus.
The wheel began to turn, and Imoen with it. She felt her body being heaved around in circles. As she came down on each revolution, her body was slammed upon the ground, sending sharp pain of every kind through her frail frame.
She shut her eyes as the seemingly endless torment continued. She prayed for the succour of endless sleep. But each time when she felt darkness closed in upon her, she found even that was no respite. For in the darkness she found herself faced with the terrible realization of what she felt for Irenicus. His denial, and his unfeeling burned her more than any torture could. When the darkness fell away, she would open her eyes to find Irenicus before her.
"Not after you loved me," was all he said. And the words would sear through her again. The wheel would roll once more.
"Help me..." gasped Imoen, but nobody heard save she.
'You love me still," said Irenicus.
"I don't love anyone anymore!"
Imoen woke up startled and found that she had screamed at the ceiling of her room. It was still dark outside, but the Moon has kindly illuminated her bed through the window. Jorbs was barking outside, no doubt alarmed by her scream she thought. Minsc the hamster was scurrying around her feet, concerned by his mistress' distress.
"Oh you poor little fella!" cried she. "C'mon over here!"
The hamster hopped across the bed and into the palm of her hands and stayed there contented.
"Sorry to have startled you Minsc. I am having the dream again," she apologized to the hamster. She had always thought Minsc (the Ranger not the hamster) was crazy to talk to his hamster Boo as though as it understood language until she found herself doing just that once she got her own hamster. "I wish it would go away, but I guess some things stay with you all your life. The dream was alway so real though."
The hamster answered with a squeak, but was soon fast asleep under the soft caresses of its mistress. She laid the hamster back into its little cushioned box and sat there under the moonlight for a while. Other dogs have joined Jorbs, and soon a chorus of barking could be heard throughout Candlekeep.
"Sorry! I don't mean to wake up everyone!" muttered she apologetically, mostly to herself.
She looked at her wrists. The scars from the chain were barely visible in the moonlight, but she knew they were there.
"Oh well. Some things," sighed she. Then she looked around her. The feeling of security the walls of her room in Candlekeep covered her in a shroud of peace. And the bed felt so soft and comfortable. "Well, that's that! Irenicus' gone. Back to sleep !"
Pulling down the blinds on her window, she laid down to sleep once more. Snugging deep into the warm blanket, she closed her eyes and was soon asleep with her lips smiling. She did not notice the single drop of tear falling onto the pillow as she fell into untroubled sleep for the rest of the night.
The next morning, she was awakened by a persistent knock on the door. She rubbed her eyes, thinking that perhaps she had overslept. A sudden gust of cold early morning air told her that she has not. For the Sun was just beginning to creep up the horizon and has not beaten the walls of Candlekeep yet.
"Oh bother!" cried she. The knocking persisted, and began to grow louder. "Coming! Coming!"
She leapt up from her bed, grabbed a thick bathrobe to reinforce the white pajamas against the cold morning air. Suddenly she realized that it was raining heavily outside, which made her double her pace.
"Coming!" hollered she once more as she reached for the doorknob and then "Sorry!" as she opened the door.
"You have better be!" came back the retort as a man stepped quickly through, his heavy gray cloak all dripping and making a mess on the floor. He threw open the hood to reveal a ragged young man, with unkept hair and a face that needed a shave.
"Felden!"cried Imoen in delight at the sight of her old friend. "Felden! What are you doing here?"
"Getting very wet and very annoyed, you sleepyhead," said Felden struggling to take off his wet cloak. Imoen closed the door behind him and lent a hand. As soon as they got the wet cloak out of the way, they gave each other a long hug, one befitting of those who had grew up together, fought together against the greatest of evils and then left each other to travel along their own separate paths in life.
"It is good to see you again!" said Imoen.
"Well, I have _seen_ you already last night when I came in," replied Felden with a grin in his face, as he went about lighting up the fireplace with some faggots and a spell. "In fact, I was wondering what kind of dream you were having with that smile on your face," he added.
"You spied on me!"she threw a wet boot at him.
"Ah! Spying is such a bad word!" laughed Felden, catching the boot before it soil his green leather tunic. "I was eager to see you, Imoen! The dogs were making such a fuss about my arrival that I was worried that I have woken up the entire keep. But no, not Imoen sleepyhead! You haven't changed a bit! Always late."
Imoen blushed, feeling all at once happy, annoyed and embarrassed.
"And you are the good boy, Gorion's favourite as I remembered!" she retorted, her hands upon her hip.
"Everybody's favourite, mind you," said Felden in a mock serious tone, snapping his finger at her.
"Oh you Scalawag!" was all she could muster. And then she threw herself at him to give him another long hug. "I am so happy to see you! It's been years!"
"And I," said Felden as he returned her embrace warmly. "...am happy to see you too!"
"What brings you back to 'round this part of Faerun?" asked Imoen again once they have settled down comfortably around her kitchen table with some honeyed bread and a warm cup of tea each. "Not business I hope!"
"I am on holiday from saving the world from itself!" laughed Felden, sipping the last drop of his tea. "Just visiting! Even a hero needs a rest or two! Preferably with some most excellent company."
"You shameless flatterer!" said Imoen. She poured more tea into his cup.
"Not I!" shot back Felden. "I didn't come here just to see you. In fact, I don't even know you are here till I came in last night and old Rizak at the Gate told me you were here for the past few months! I thought you were still trotting around with that fogey Elminster."
"Well I was, but I needed a rest," said Imoen, stretching her back. "And I miss Candlekeep. This place seems to remind me of all the good things that were before all the madness took over our lives."
"Indeed it does! It is good to see it again," agreed Felden. "I wish I have come back to visit more often now that I know what I am missing."
"You should," said Imoen. "Now, are you going to tell me why you are around the area or do I have to steal you journal again?"
"I have that under locked with many deadly spells, aimed specificially at you!" laughed Felden. He munched on some bread, and stared at the cup of tea. "Anyway, the blasted Red Wizards of Thay are causing mischief again. Messing up the Sword Coast with some crazy hunt for a renegade Wizard. Found that out tenday back, and decided to let them find a resolution to their own problem themselves," said he.
"Oh yes," nodded Imoen. "I've heard about that a while back. Elminster thought it was not serious until they began to fight it out in crowded streets and causing harm to the innocent."
"Correct," said Felden. He took a piece of bread with his knife, and looked at it absent-mindedly. "I have the pleasure of meeting our trouble-maker Wizard in Baldur's Gate, and I told him that if he wants to fight the Red Wizards all by himself, he is welcomed to do so. I also told him that if he does not keep away from innocent people, I will be extremely pleased to kick his sorry arse back to the Tower of Thay all by myself. He was extremely...agreeable." He dramatically soaked the piece of bread in his tea with a mischievous grin. "Especially after I introduced him to Cut and Slash here." He patted on the scabbards of his twin swords.
"Poor Wizard!" laughed Imoen merrily. "Fixing problems just like old times!"
"Like old times," said Felden. He looked out of the window into the rain. The rain was falling heavily now, and the room was silent save the pitter-patter of the rain. There was a flash of lightning followed swiftly by a cackle of thunder.
"But not quite, I guess," and then he fell quiet.
Imoen was puzzled, but she did not push. A darkness seemed to befall Felden, and Imoen felt compelled to cheer up the over-serious old playmate of hers.
"Well! Nothing is quite like the old times!" she chirped brightly. "We were stupid, young and Children of that Murder God! Now we are not quite young and no longer Bhaalspawn, but still stupid! That's it!"
"Still stupid! How true!" laughed Felden, the darkness lifted by the sweetest of all happy voices. "It was madness then, carrying around the very essence of the Murder God and then go about trying to save Sword Coast as though as we have something to prove."
"Speak for yourself!" came the rejoinder. "I just tagged along to make sure you don't get into more trouble! I didn't even know I was a Bhaalspawn then!"
"That was, I believe," said Felden in his mock serious tone again,"an advantage. At least people were not trying to kill you because you were a Bhaalspawn, they were only trying to kill you because you were with one!"
"You funny!" laughed Imoen, slapping her thighs in delight. "Knowing that early would have save me a lot of trouble with Irenicus and Bodhi stealing my soul though."
"That is also very true," said Felden. "I was worried sick about you when you disappeared, and with all that stories you were telling me in that damned Irenicus' prison about the tortures and all."
"The tortures," said Imoen softly. Now it was upon her that the darkness fell. "I remember them," and then she fell quiet.
"Imoen?" said Felden, suddenly concerned and guilty that he had brought up a painful subject. "Imoen? I am sorry to mention that. Are you all right?"
"Yes, I am fine," said Imoen in a low voice, smiling but it was forced. "Must be the rain! All the noise is making me feel dizzy! Oh! I forgot about Minsc! I need to feed him!"
She went up and with a spell, conjured up some goodies for the hamster which has woken up and was scurrying about looking for food.
"You got a hamster!" cried Felden. "And it is named Minsc?"
"Yeap! That silly lovable Rangera!" laughed Imoen. "I wonder how he is keeping! I wonder how all our friends are doing!"
"Well, I have some tales to tell if you would kindly let me!" came back the quick answer. And so they talked deep into the day about the news of their former companions.
It was late in the day before the rain finally stopped. The air was fresh with a sweet scent of rain, and the Keep began to come alive again as people sought to recover whatever left of the day the rain has not consumed. Imoen and Felden took the opportunity to walk outside to greet everyone. Those who saw them and knew who they are were glad in their hearts, for all have heard about the good they did, and many knew them even as they were little children playing pranks on each other and everyone else.
"Ah, see those two, little ones," said Old Granny Natie to some of her younger charges. "I used to wonder how Gorion could manage to put up with two mischief makers such as the brats they were. But their hearts were kind and their soul kinder still. It is now a greater wonder to me how great they have grown up to be! Look at them! Still as polite as I can remember and still so courteous to Old Natie here!"
The two old friends finally came upon the West Walls. There they stood side by side silently upon the battlements looking towards the Sea. The setting Sun cast rays of reddish purple into the dark blue sky as He took His final bow into the Sea for the day. There was sparse clouds after the rain, and the clouds seemed to dance in response to the rays, leaving layers upon layers of multi-coloured sculptures hanging on the sky. Sea gulls bustled noisily above them.
"The birds always remind me of Aerie," said Imoen, her gaze still upon the Sea. "I am glad she has returned to her poor thing has to endure such pain in her life and this is such a happy ending for her. Happier still if she has found someone to share her life with!"
"Last I heard, she has not," said Felden, cringing at Imoen's mention of the "someone". "But in time she will! She is a sweet good hearted girl. And a beauty too! Many a man will fall upon themselves to court her."
"Like someone we know perhaps?" her tone was mischievous, and she rubbed it in with a gentle elbow into Felden's side. "Someone...big, strong and caring."
"Oh hush Imoen," said Felden, biting his lips. "You knew Aerie and I were never meant to be. I was not the big knight in shining armour she wanted, nor will I ever be one. I am too cynical."
"Excuses, excuses!" laughed Imoen, pleased at her success in teasing Felden. "Haven't you seen her eyes, Felden? Those beautiful big blue eyes of hers fluttered every time you said something nice to her. And you, big boy, oh, so good to her!"
"I was just being kind," said Felden defensively, shrugging his shoulders. "She needed encouragement, and I was there to offer her that. That's all."
"Encouragement from Felden! I didn't get your encouragement when I needed it!" snapped Imoen, laughing. "I got a kick in the butt from you mostly!"
"You needed that sometimes, like right now!" said Felden impatiently. He aimed a swift kick but she nimbly stepped away and he kicked air instead of behind.
"C'mon, little brother," giggled Imoen. She tugged at his arms, and gave Felden a mock dreamy eye look. "You like her don't you?! Admit it, it's all right! Big sis Imoen is here to listen to all your confessions! I am all ears!"
"Yes I like..., no, not that _like_! It was nothing like that!"stuttered Felden, shaking his head. "My feelings for Aerie were entirely brotherly!"
"_Brotherly_!" cried Imoen, jumping back from him. "Now I am jealous!"
"What for?!" replied Felden, hands outstretched in exasperation.
"For being brotherly to another other than your loving sis Imoen!"
"Oh you!" laughed Felden. "You'll never grow up!"
"Hey! It's me, Imoen!" laughed Imoen, giving Felden a silly face. "I _don't know_ how to grow up!"
So they laughed, and gave each other a playful whack on the heads. For a moment, it was really just like old times and the trials they took together seemed a world away. After a while, they sat down next to each other leaning on the battlements, catching their breath from laughing too hard.
The Sun has cast His ray for the day, and sank below the Sea, taking His final embers with Him. The sky darkened, and soft twinkling stars appeared upon it, covered once in a while by thin gossamer of the dispersing clouds.
"Well...true confessions. Imoen," said Felden finally. "I liked Aerie. I still like her. But it was never that kind of like, if you know what I mean. My heart never moved." Then he was quiet for a while, staring at his folded knees in front of him. "Not that I didn't try." added he softly.
"Oh," said Imoen, cocking both eyebrows in surprise. "You tried to, uh, like her? You know, like as in _that_ kind of like?"
"Yes, I tried," said Felden softly, looking up into the twilight sky. "But I cannot. The feelings...they did not..."
"Come," said Imoen, finishing the sentence for him.
"The feelings did not come," repeated Felden, his gaze locked upon the stars. "I do not know why. I used to think my inability to open my heart was perhaps rooted in the divinity that was in me. So I gave it away. But the feelings would not come still."
"You gave up being a God to find love?" cried Imoen almost rhetorically, her eyes wide with incredulity at what she had just heard.
"Yes... and no," said Felden, taking his gaze from the sky onto his feet stretched out in front of him. "Yes, I wanted to be mortal because I want to live and love as a mortal. But no, I refused to be a God because I want to be free to live this life as I want to, not as how others want me to."
"I...I don't know what to say, Felden," said Imoen, stuttering and trying to comprehend the words of a man who had just refused Godhood to...learn to love.
"Say nothing, Imoen," said Felden, smiling but it was full of irony. "I don't expect people to understand my selfish needs."
"It's not selfish!" cried Imoen. "And I do understand!"
"I wish you do," said Felden, and then he let out a long sigh. "It's selfish anyhow. If you ponder over it for a moment."
"It's not!" protested Imoen immediately.
"Stop trying to make me feel better, Imoen!" rebuked Felden. He turned towards Imoen with a flash of anger in his eyes. "I have spent enough years playing this do-good-game to know that if it is doing good I want, I could have done so much more as a God," said he as his gaze softened, looking away.
Felden drew up his knees to his chin, and stared at them deep in thought. "So much more," he muttered, and then he fell silent for a long while leaving Imoen both confused and concerned. Finally, she could bear neither the silence nor the sight of Felden depressed no longer. She groped for something to say. "It must be a horrible burden to carry, Felden. I mean, er, the consequences of your decision to..."
"Turn down Godhood? My decision yes! Mine alone!" Felden cut in sharply glaring at her, his voice suddenly angry and menacing. "Stay away from this Imoen! It's my burden and I share it with no others. You don't want to know how horrible that burden is! For it is horrible indeed!"
Felden jumped onto his feet abruptly. He loomed upon Imoen like a dark shadow, and Imoen cowed away from him.
"Do you know how lonely is that, Imoen?" thundered Felden. Imoen saw his eyes burned with wrath as he looked down upon her, He clenched his fists, and gestured them before her. "I have power beyond most mortal! I can bring down empires with my majesty! I can make a City cry my name in joy! If I fancy it, I can bring woe and destruction upon all of them as easily!"
Felden slammed his fists on his own chest. "Yet I am mortal and valour is all I have! It is useless when the Dark Plague slowly take the life of young children before my eyes! It is useless when the floods swept away the village of Navetim! It is useless against the famine that is cursing the Zhentarim to a slow death! It is useless! It is useless! I gave up real power all for what? A pathetic need to love and be loved!"
He laughed bitterly and turned to face the sky and the Gods. "Laugh at me! Go on! Sit on your lofty nether planes and laugh at me! Only a fool would cast away the burden of Godhood to replace it with the burden of Guilt! What bitter irony!" He turned to Imoen, thrusting an accusing finger at her. "Do you know how lonely is that burden? Imoen? Do you know?" he demanded.
"I don't know!" screamed Imoen. She crawled backwards retreating from him, eyes wide with fear and confusion. "I don't know! Felden, you are scaring me!"
"Then stay away from this burden! Stay away from me! I have enough guilt as it is to gain more watching you wilt under it!" As he spoke, he seemed to shrink away from Imoen. The menace evaporated as suddenly as it began, and he collapsed like a sag onto the cold floor. He curled up cowering from the world around him, with hands around his head and eyes shut tight. Then he wept silently, leaving Imoen gasping for breath.
Imoen sat rooted for a while, shocked and stunned by what she had witnessed. "This is Felden?" she thought, not quite able to bring herself to believing that it was indeed her gentle old friend in front of her. Finally gathering up her courage, she crawled towards Felden. "Dear Felden... you are not alone. We love you,", said she softly. But Felden just shook his head. Imoen went on her knees and drew herself close to him, but he shrank away, pushing her arms away from himself.
"I..." Imoen began, but could not continue, surprised and dismayed by his rejection. She withdrew, wounded. But at this, Felden realized what he had done.
"Forgive me Imoen!" he cried. "This is madness! Forgive me! Oh, what have I said! How could I!" He reached for her. He found Imoen offered no resistance, allowing him to hold her in his arms.
"It's all right little brother," said Imoen, trying to be chirpy. "Don't you cry anymore! It's not manly of you!" But she found herself weeping. She returned his embrace, and kneeling, they held each other tightly. There, upon the battlements of Candlekeep under the now clear skies full of stars, they wept in each other's arms.
"Oh, silly me!" said Imoen at last, wiping her tears away. She laughed a little bit at herself. "And silly you! All grown up, and crying like a little boy like you used to. I thought I am the only one not knowing how to grow up!"
"Imoen! May Lathander bless your soul! You are most wonderful!" said Felden, wiping away his own tears, and laughing now. "Bhaal must be out of his element to have a Child such as you!"
"Not any more! No more Big Evil Father essence in me," said Imoen. She sniffed and wiped her face clean with her sleeve, and then put on a brave smiling face. "Imoen is clean as a fiddle!"
She looked silly, and Felden could not help but laughed. "Bhaal will probably rest easier without you spoiling his good name of being the former Lord of Murder! Come on, it is getting cold," said Felden. He got up and offered his hand to Imoen. "Let's go inside."
She smiled and took his hand and they walk back into her cabin hand-in-hand, saying no more.
They made a quick supper and ate mostly silently. Every once in a while, Imoen took a peek at Felden and saw some faint lines on his face that betrayed the demons he carried inside him. She felt pity and helpless. She wished she could find a way to ease his burden.
"Thank you. But it is a burden that nobody save I can... no, should carry," said Felden reading her thoughts, and catching one of her gazes.
"You can't stop me from trying to take some from you though," said Imoen, earnestly.
"Ah! As always, wanting the last word!" cried Felden, reaching his hand to hold hers. "Thank you, dear Imoen! If you seek a way to ease my burden, then I tell you this : you already have. I have shared this burden with none. You are the first and will be the last. To know that you care for this selfish fool is the greatest salve my soul can have!"
Imoen squeezed his hand gently. "You know, I wouldn't be the only one to..." she began.
"No," Felden stopped her. "I am ashamed for what I've said just now. I wish for none, especially those I care about, to see it again," said he.
"Your friends care for you a lot more than you think, Felden," said Imoen, undaunted and a little bit irritated. "After all, they have all gone to Hell and back for you."
"And for that, I am forever grateful," said Felden. He let out a long sigh, his chest heaving heavily. "It is a debt I will never be able to repay. I will be doubly selfish if I reward them not with eternal gratitude, but with another burden of my own doing. Besides, what can they do? Kind words provide relief only fleetingly."
"They can make bearing it less...lonely," said Imoen, pressing. "We all love you, Felden. Take it. It's free."
"Oh, Imoen!" cried Felden. "Bless you! But it is hopeless! I cannot return that love : for I am crippled in my heart and in my conscience. Just think what this will do to sweet dear Aerie! This will destroy her. She had loved me, that I have no doubt. But she needs a person who loves her back, not an emotional leper carrying a disease waiting to afflict her! And I am ashamed of what I think even now : I will choose mortality if I am given the choice again." He looked away from Imoen and thought for a while. Turning back, he declared in a determined voice "I have made my choice, and I will learn to live with it."
Imoen started to say something, but found that no words left her lips. She clasped his hand with both hers, and their eyes locked for a while. She saw sadness in his eyes, yet she also saw that they were defiant and unbowed.
"Well at least you are carrying a new burden, not slaving over an old one." said she finally.
Felden's eyebrows rose with those words. He has almost forgotten, but this brought back the dark memories like a sudden thunderstorm. "Irenicus."
"Yes, Irenicus," said Imoen, her voice almost a whisper. "But, just in dreams though." She thought for a moment, and then began to speak slowly amd softly. "I remember the tortures. The cage. The chains. The smell of burning flesh. I remember loathing each waking moment...almost hoping the next blow would be painful enough to put me into the darkness. I can still hear the screams of the humans being sacrificed...it was..." She trailed off. "I remember the spells he put on me to strip me of my hold on my soul...and the feeling of...my soul being sucked away..."
Her hands began to tremble even as she held his. She felt him squeezing it. "Imoen, it is all right now," said Felden. "It is past. The tortures has ended long ago. I am here." She smiled gratefully at Felden, and her spirits were comforted and lifted. But there was something she had to say.
"He did something else," said she in a fearful voice. "He took...something...No, he gave me something. Something...like an memory, or an experience. Something I do not want to own." She paused. "This is not making sense, is it?"
"Like a memory?" said Felden looking puzzled. "I do not understand."
"Neither do I," sighed Imoen. "It made me fearful. Fearful of something that hurts more than all the tortures he inflicted upon me. But I do not know what that something is. I guess when I see it, I will know."
"I wish I can do something for you," said Felden. He looked at Imoen kindly.
"Just be here for me, Felden."
"Now and always, Imoen."
She felt a strange swelling of joy as he spoke those words. She gazed at him for a while, smiled and then put the dark thoughts away. "Well, now we're even!"
Felden laughed, delighted at her sudden change of tone. "Have I told you you are most wonderful?" he cried. "Let me say that again : you are most wonderful! And when you see that something, call for me and I will give it an extremely painful lesson in how-not-bother-my-good-sis-Imoen! By Lathander, have I missed you terribly!"
Imoen laughed. She wanted to say she had missed him terribly too, but the words died in her mouth.
Imoen was dismayed to learn that Felden has to leave as early as the next day on an errand that required his immediate attention. Felden tried to postpone taking leave as long as he could that day, but depart he must at the end. So, as the day waned and the night beckoned, Imoen walked Felden with his horse Fastfeet to the Gate to bid him goodbye. Their hearts were heavy, for they did not know when they would meet again.
Imoen made Felden promised thrice to send news to her wherever he may be. "Listen, this past five years without a word between us was too long!," Imoen told him. "It's so terrible that the news I get about you all came from tavern gossip! You must write me!"
"Then you take this," Felden had answered her. He took Imoen's hand, and put a silver whistle on her palm and clasped her fingers close over it. On it was etched the words. 'When you see a bearer of tidings, blow me, sing me, and may your day be brighter then.'
When they reached the Gate, they embraced each other for a long while. Imoen began to weep softly.
"Please do not weep!" pleaded Felden, as he mounted Fastfeet. "It is hard enough for me as it is!"
"Oh, all right!" laughed Imoen through her tears. "You go now! No long goodbyes! Else I will tie you to a post and not let you leave forever! Go! Go fix the problems of Faerun!"
"Then I shall go! Keep well, Imoen!" cried Felden as he turned to go. "Fear no more dark dreams! Call for me when in need and I will ride the fastest wind back to you! Goodbye! Forth Fastfeet! Take me South to Amn!"
Fastfeet tossed his head wildly in response, and with a neigh, sped down the pathway.
"Goodbye!" cried Imoen after him as Fastfeet galloped away. "If you see any of our friends, send warmest love from Imoen!"
Imoen stood there watching as Felden began to fade away into the twilight. Finally, as he was about to disappear from view, Imoen added softly to herself, "And don't forget to come and see me whenever you can."
She thought she saw Felden turned his head back and smiled at her when she said that.
Postscript : I don't know how to end this story : foresight has failed. Maybe I should end it right here. But I will leave it as it is for now.