Aleina tucked the linen bed sheet under the feather mattress at the foot of the bed, smoothing any creases as she did.
"You start at the bottom," she said. "Then fold at an angle like this, and tuck that in. That keeps the corner nice and tight. See?"
Not getting an answer she turned and looked to Jhelnae. The half-drow, dressed in the tan smock and hose uniform of the Restful Lily, half-heartedly moved a broom around, in what might generously be called sweeping, lost in her own thoughts.
"You didn't hear anything of what I just said," the aasimar said. "Or see what I showed, did you?"
"What?" Jhelnae asked.
Aleina sighed. "Here, watch as I do the other corner. It really isn't that hard."
"Look," the half-drow said. "We're only here to help for a ten-day. Just long enough for Sylvarie and my cousin to get some potential new Sunnite acolytes to train in Silverymoon and come back."
In some strange defiance of the odds, it turned out Ilmar's family name was Mizzrym and he was actually a relative of Ilvara. Which made him a cousin, however distant, to Jhelnae. The aasimar's personal experience with the drow hairdresser's family allowed Aleina to more than understand why he'd fled the Underdark.
"We had a total of four guests," the half-drow continued. "Two of which left today. So, there is really no reason for me to learn how to make a bed up to your obsessive standards. Especially since I came on this trip under the promise that we were the ones who were going to relax and get pampered. Instead, I've been pressed into service."
The aasimar rolled her eyes. "You weren't pressed into service. As I recall, you volunteered to help. We all did. And it hasn't been that bad. Like you said, it's only been four guests. Counting Glitter and the others there are eight of us. We outnumber them two to one. Which has given us plenty of time to get in our own soaks."
"You're forgetting cleaning up the temple and the tower," Jhelnae said. "Those places are filthy."
"Were filthy," Aleina said. "They're actually cleaning up quickly, and nicely."
"Gods, you've actually been enjoying this, haven't you?" Jhelnae asked, voice accusing. "As much as if we had just been able to relax."
Aleina considered, then nodded. "Why wouldn't I? I'm doing something productive. I can see the progress. And since I'm doing it with my friends, it doesn't feel like work."
"By all that dances!" the half-drow said. "Do you know how much you sounded like my mother just now? If I closed my eyes, and your voice was different, I'd never guess that didn't come out of her mouth."
She pitched her voice in the tone she reserved for mimicking her mother. "No task seems impossible when shared among many hands, and when you accomplish that goal together, the bond is something very special. If you became a priestess, Jhelnae, you'd feel it for yourself."
She shook her head and let out a snort to show what she thought of that.
"Oh, just get over here and help me," Aleina said.
With a melodramatic sigh, Jhelnae did just that.
"How did you get so good at making beds anyway?" the half-drow asked. "I thought nobles didn't do this sort of work."
"Welcome to the scandalous D'lusker secret," the aasimar said, tucking and smoothing, then spreading a blanket with her friend's help. "We had to economize wherever we could, but also keep up the appearance of the manor. So, we surreptitiously did a lot of the household chores ourselves."
"Oh the horror and the shame," the Jhelnae said. "You know, maybe your family's shortage of money was a blessing? As I understand it from chapbooks, most nobles grow up spoiled and insufferable, but you turned out alright."
Her friend was teasing, but Aleina actually had first-hand knowledge of just how spoiled and insufferable nobles could be. It was actually something she'd considered herself. But despite their old patriar name, the family was on the precipice of financial ruin and the treasure she had gathered in their escape from the Underdark could help with that. Which brought up something the aasimar intended on broaching with the half-drow.
"So," Aleina said. "We've fulfilled our promise to Derendil. What now? Let your parents know you're alive and well I suppose?"
Jhelnae stopped fluffing the pillow she positioned and frowned.
"I asked Ilmar to send my parents a message through his Eilistraeen contacts," the half-drow said. "But I really should go home. You're still willing to come along, right?"
The aasimar nodded. "Of course. But I did have a suggestion."
She'd stopped working on the bed as well, and she and her friend regarded each other across it. Aleina hesitated, knowing what she was about to ask was incredibly selfish.
"I was thinking," the aasimar said. "You probably want to get a message to your parents quickly. There are wizards who can be hired to do sending spells. You could find plenty in a big city like Waterdeep. And they have banks there where you can make a deposit and have the funds be transferred to one in Baldur's Gate so I can send the treasure I've found home."
Jhelnae didn't respond immediately, and when she did, she spoke slowly.
"Let me make sure I understand," she said. "I need to let my parents know I'm alright and I escaped from being held hostage in Thay. My mother willingly let herself be taken to a place called the Doomvault so I'd be spared, during which, the Thayans did gods know what experiments on her for being a Chosen of Eilistraee. And you want me to do it through a sending spell? So you can send guilt money to your family at the same time?"
Aleina winced. "I know. I'm a terrible person. Forget I said anything…"
"Fine then, let's do it," the half-drow said.
"I told myself it was ridiculous," the aasimar said. "But I didn't let that stop me from asking. Sorry…wait, what?"
"I said fine, let's do it," Jhelnae said.
Aleina just stared.
"I've been disappointing my mother for a long time now," the half-drow said, shrugging. "If I didn't do it again, she wouldn't believe it was me and probably chop off my head, thinking I was a yochlol in disguise. So, let's do it your way."
"No, no, no," the aasimar said, shaking her head. "You're right. You should go there personally. And I'll go with you. My family has limped along fine for a generation. They'll be alright a while longer."
"Well, they won't have to wait long," Jhelnae said. "Since we're going to Waterdeep."
"No," Aleina said. "We're going to Cormanthyr. Maybe Aravae wants to come along to visit her foster mother."
The half-drow threw up her hands. "By all that dances! You're the one who asked me to go to Waterdeep, and I agreed."
"That was before I heard how crazy it sounded when I asked," the aasimar said.
"It's not that crazy," Jhelnae said. "I've been trying to get a message to my parents to let them know I'm alright. A big city will have wizards I can hire to do a sending spell. I have the coin to do it. It's the fastest way I can give them peace of mind. Then, after I talk with them, I can decide if I need to head home."
"Well, if that's your reasoning, then fine," Aleina said.
"It is," the half-drow said.
She went back to fluffing and placing the pillow she held.
"And thank you," the aasimar said.
Jhelnae smiled. "Now, let's discuss something more important. We essentially saved these guests from a coven of hags, right?"
They finished with the pillows and Jhelnae retrieved the broom from where she'd leaned it against the wall and Aleina grabbed the dustpan. They moved around the room, getting it ready to mop.
"I suppose so?" Aleina said, raising an eyebrow at the seemingly random change in topic.
"So, they should have been appropriately grateful," Jhelnae said. "Which means things have been backwards. They should have been massaging and attending to our needs. That's all I was saying before. Us having to take care of them is a grave injustice."
Aleina laughed. "Okay, fine. I see your point. But which of the guests would you take as a masseuse? The Flaming Fist mercenary? He'd have beaten you to a pulp. I'm glad he left today by the way. I was so sick of using my disguise spells whenever I was around him."
"Would he even have recognized you?" The half-drow asked. "He'd probably never even seen you before."
"My former betrothed is the scion of one of the wealthiest families in Baldur's gate and my running away from our upcoming wedding humiliated him in a way that would be ripe for very public gossip." The aasimar pointed at her eyes. "And I sort of have a very distinctive look."
"True," Jhelnae said. "But to answer your question, I'd have taken the Cormyrean Purple Dragon Knight who was in this room."
Aleina was already shaking her head. "No, that would have been my choice."
"If you are a good friend," the half-drow said. "Like I know you are. You'd let yourself rough handled by that Flaming Fist and leave the Cormyrian to me."
"You'd just have to listen to him talk about his love the entire time," the aasimar said. "What was her name?"
"Raereene," Jhelnae said. "How could you forget? It was all he could talk about. He was handsome enough, but now that you mention it, such a bore. On further thought, I'd rather get bruised and battered on the massage table than hear him talk about her one more time."
"It is sort of sweet though," Aleina said. "He traveled all the way here to have Sune teach him something that might impress his heart's desire. I wonder what Sylvarie told him."
"Probably not to be such a lovesick puppy," the half-drow said. "He said she is a Cormyrean War Wizard. She is going to want a little challenge."
"Well, I still think it is a bit romantic," the aasimar said. "Like the knightly quest in a ballad."
"Only instead of fighting a dragon at the end he spends a few days in a restorative hot spring and getting massages," Jhelnae said. "And instead of rescuing the enchanted sleeping maidens he leaves all that to Aravae, then bores them all to tears with tales of his beloved."
"She must be an amazing woman," Aleina said.
"Amazing," the half-drow agreed. "Some girls get all the luck. And the rest of us…"
As was so common for them when they just chit chatted, their minds were in lock step with each other.
"Only get to be part of the Sweet Sisterhood of Swanmays," they said together, laughing.
"Wouldn't trade places with her," the aasimar said.
"Nope," Jhelnae said.
"Kuhl, Fargas, and Surash are really going to hate that name, by the way," Aleina said.
"So?" the half-drow said.
The aasimar nodded and smiled. "Can you imagine how Ront would have reacted?"
Jhelnae snorted out a laugh. "He'd have warmed to it. Slowly."
"Very slowly," the aasimar said.
They'd finished sweeping and Aleina started mopping the floor. The half-drow, with really nothing to do, settled on moving the bucket when needed and watching.
"You know, I've been thinking," she said. "That name is more than just alliteration. It fits."
"How so," the aasimar asked, using the levered action on the bucket to wring out the mop.
"Did you have that fable of the ugly duckling growing up to be a swan in Baldur's Gate?" Jhelnae asked.
"Of course," Aleina said, resuming mopping. "But I am a bit surprised that the drow do. If there are ducks or swans in the Underdark, we never saw any."
"It's a surface legend of course," the half-drow said. "But something Eilistraeens, of course, adopted as the metaphor suits our purposes. Drow from the Underdark starting as ducklings and turning into swans."
"I think that is an allegory," the aasimar said. "Not a metaphor."
"What is the difference?" Jhelnae asked, brow wrinkling in confusion.
"Hells if I know," Aleina said, shrugging. "My tutor just used to always say it was the other whenever I tried to use the term. At least when he was sober enough to respond. We really couldn't afford the best tutor. So I just reflexively said the same. Sorry."
"Well, whichever it is," the half-drow said. "It fits. I am the daughter of a darksong knight and a Chosen of Eilistraee. Yet I never could muster enough faith to even become a priestess. I never fit in anywhere until I found myself a prisoner among strangers."
"See," the aasimar said. "That's what I was talking about. Yes, we've been working cleaning the place up. But it hardly felt like work."
"No," Jhelnae said, shaking her head and crossing her arms. "I felt the whole accomplishing a shared goal my mother talked about when we escaped the Underdark. Also when we fought for Blingdenstone and again when we defeated the necromancer's army. But successfully sweeping up a bunch of mirror shards off a temple floor? No. Just no."
A chime sounded through the pendants they wore around their necks before Aleina could respond. Someone had just entered through the front door of the bathhouse.
"New guests?" Aleina asked.
"If it is, Falthrax will get them settled," the half-drow said.
The dwarf was not as old and frail as when afflicted by the curse of his portrait, but still elderly. He'd been assigned duty in the lobby.
"And if it is Auntie Greenbones?" the aasimar asked.
That sent them out of the room and jogging down the corridor. Glitter, now in his tiefling form, glanced up from the pedicure treatment he gave to one of their halfling guests as they entered the lounge. The other probably was receiving a massage from Sky. The massive dragonborn, Gorba, previously thin and weak under the curse, likely helped Mialee and Aravae with cleaning and repairing the tower. Still at a jog, Aleina and Jhelnae crossed the floral scented room to the lobby.
They arrived slightly breathless to find Falthrax talking with three newly arrived guests, their packs taken off and resting in front of their feet.
"No," the old dwarf was saying. "I have never heard of the Ruins of Darmaerth, but I don't know the High Forest well. There are two elves…"
He broke off as Aleina and Jhelnae came running in. The first guest was a lithe, athletic, handsome man. Something about his bearing and his grin said he thought a lot about himself, but there was also something disarming as well. Despite his stained travel clothes, he was obviously a noble of some sort. That was apparent by his confident stance at the front desk, knowing he'd be served and served well. The dark-haired, dark-eyed woman at his side was quite stunning, even with the obvious signs of trail fatigue in her posture and expression. But Aleina only had eyes for the third member of their party.
"Greetings," the man said as the aasimar and the half-drow stared. "I am Arclath Delcastle, this is my lady love Amarune Whitewave, and this is…"
"Ront!" Aleina and Jhelnae both yelled.
They surged forwards and wrapped the orc in a dual embrace.
"Oh, I see you know each other already," the man said.
"It could have been the halfling," Ront groaned. "It could have been the half-elf. Or even that crazy tabaxi. But no, out of all I could have run into first, it had to be you two. Gruumsh curse me, coming to find you all was a mistake!"
I know, I know, why am I posting so soon. Hey, its the epilogue. It was easy to write. Is it a too boring? I mean they are doing household chores...
I'm planning more with this party in Waterdeep (collective groan). Hope you'll come over there and join them.
Update 5-15-2022 - did some edits.