The balmy dawn promised a gorgeous early summer’s day and Naismith was climbing up the short, steep cliff that forms the border of Castle Ward and the estate called Catchbreeze – home to him and his friends. He was drunk and exhausted, but the climb was familiar to him, and he scaled the rocks without effort. With a bit of luck, he thought, he’d be able to catch a wink or two in Jero’s hammock in the rose garden as the sun came up. It would be his best chance to get some sleep
The night had been long and boring, starting with some drawn-out dinner because Ilian would have to travel for a bit, to do… well… something. Naismith shrugged as he climbed. She’d be back soon. She’d looked uncomfortable about the formal affair, and surely would not mind that he’d snuck away as soon as he could.
He’d spent the night in Skullport, two miles below the surface of Waterdeep. There too, things had been disappointingly quiet. Not until he’d gone down to the Dredge had Naismith found his mark: a group of down on their luck slavers who looked just desperate enough. He’d made his rounds around the Scupperden then, cracking a joke here, sharing a laugh there until, finally, he was noticed by the gang. They had assumed he was what he pretended to be: some bored Waterdhavian kid with exaggerated stories and a flashy, dull blade. Once he was certain he was their target, he’d left, allowing them to follow. He’d let them chase him as he dipped into narrow alleys, trotted across suspended catwalks, and lead them into cul-de-sacs from which they believed his escape was impossible, and then faking clumsiness as he evaded their grasp by inches.
Eventually the gang had become winded, so he let them catch up. Once he was surrounded, he’d drawn his rapier and take them on. Not that they were really a challenge. His only challenge was being quick enough to avoid notice of the Skulls and coming up with yet another disguise to prevent being recognized. Well, that, and waiting until one of his contacts would get back to him with the information he’d so furtively been searching for since coming back.
Just as he reaches his hand over the low wall atop the cliff that marks the end of Catchbreeze’s private garden, a hand comes down upon his wrist and begins to pull him in.
Startled, he looks up. “Ho, Ilian.” Hells! He wishes he’d sounded a bit more sober. In less than a second he is over the wall, standing in the garden at the heart of the estate. The half-elf looks him up and down. “Secret staircases not secret enough for you, Naismith?” He opens his mouth for a rebuttal, then changes his mind and shrugs. A large pack leans against the wall he just climbed over. He gestures at it. “And you? More formal dinners?” He aimed for a joke, but it falls flat. He sighs and shrugs apologetically. She shakes her head. “It’s alright. Spare me a few minutes? I’ve barely seen you lately. ” “You see me more than most.” he retorts. “My rooms were next to yours, Naismith. I would wake up.” The rogue looks at his feet. “I just have a lot to think about.” “That’s not what I’d call it. Look, man, it’s no surprise any of us have nightmares. That we’re still haunted by… well… by everything. And I really didn’t mind keeping you company at night.” Naismith clenches his jaw even tighter. “You worry too much. They’re just dreams. And why are you talking about everything in the past tense? You’re just traveling, that’s all. It’s not a big deal!”
Ilian frowns, grabs her pack, takes Naismith by his arm and moves further into the garden. She pushes him down on a carved stone bench, reaches behind him and pulls out a jug, which she uncorks and hands to him. It’s coffee. She stands in front of him and folds her arms. “You barely sleep at night. You have constant nightmares. You wake up screaming and swear up and down that there is a medusa standing in the corner of the room. During what little sleep you get you talk of Lulach this and Lulach that and beg not to be sent away. Nobody has any idea of the state you’re in! You go on excursions to Silvanus-knows-where looking like some North Ward popinjay. You come back with cuts and bruises you refuse to let me tend. And now I have to go away and I can’t look out for you and I have no idea if I’ll ever be back and I can’t decide if I should tell Royce on you or shake you like a rag doll until the truth falls out of you! It is a big, bloody, godsrotten deal!” The little ranger spits the words at his feet, raising her chin as if expecting a punch
Naismith, feeling like he’s just been punched himself, stares at her wide-eyed. “D-don’t tell Royce. Or anyone.” After a while, she relents “I won’t, then. But you’ll take Petri.” “I… No. I couldn’t. She’s your basilisk. And you know what happened to Fosse. I killed him.” “And I killed Fluffy. And Achtoë. And Sunflash.” Ilian says, curtly. “I don’t say this for Petri’s sake, but for yours. I want you to have her. She’s a fierce little thing, and she can be your friend if you let her. She’ll guard your room when you sleep and keep you company when you can’t.” She pauses briefly, then continues. “ And I wasn’t asking. You keeping her is my price for your secrets.”
Naismith gulps more coffee. Eventually, he nods. “I’ll take her.” Ilian deflates with relief. “Good. Then get up and say your farewells. I’m leaving.” Naismith splutters. “Surely not now? And besides, you’ll be back soon, right?” Ilian gives him a dark look as she straps on her pack. “You can walk me to the gates. Tusker is waiting there with my guide.”
Clinging to the jug of coffee as if his life depends on it, Naismith walks with her through the courtyard, the dining room, the library and the lush gardens out front. When a last copse of trees stands between them and the gate, she stops and puts an arm around his shoulders. “Sorry if I was harsh just now. I just worry.” Naismith squares his shoulders and aims for the best of his reassuring smiles and his most jovial voice. “Don’t. It’ll be fine. I’ll fatten up your lizard while you gallivant across the country and you and mister pig will be back before you know it.”
Suddenly she squeezes him fiercely and plants a kiss on his cheek. Before he can respond she’s let him go and stepped through the trees, in full view of the gates. Naismith watches from the foliage as she wipes her face with her sleeve and spends a long moment fussing over the already perfectly adjusted straps of her pack. She calls over the big boar and finally hails a tall figure in green robes who stands outside the gate holding a pair of horses. They’re gone so swiftly he barely manages to catch a glimpse of Mielikki’s holy symbol on one of the saddles.