Cerellion let loose a heartfelt sigh as he slumped down onto the cushioned chair at the inn. It was one of the most prestigious in the city, a mark of the favour granted them by the Lords of Waterdeep. A servingman swept in with a tall crystal glass filled with a ruby red wine, placing it before him, placing beside it a plate steaming from the freshly prepared meal upon it. Cerellion thanked him, before taking a sip of the wine, smiling in pleasure at the clean, tart taste to it.
The door opened and a leopard stalked into the inn. At first glance, one might take it for Tan, but this leopard had a more reddish hue to its fur and it was definitely larger. It sat in the doorway for several long moments, gazing around with the air of inquisitiveness before the feline gaze settled on Cerellion. The large cat staled over to the mage and sniffed him over. Apparently whatever it scented satisfied it, for the leopard sat down and STARED at Cerellion fixedly.
Cerellion gave the cat a tolerant look. “I don’t know what you may be thinking, but rest assured it does not include any of this venison. If you are here for Siofra, I am certain she will be happy to indulge you.”
The leopards ears perked forward and a deep and rumbling purr emerged from its chest for a long moment. Either it was working Cerellion over for the venison, or it was in fact there for Siofra. The big head butted against Cerellion’s leg insistently.
Cerellion snorted. “Do I look like a druid to go sappy over something with fur? I intend to savour this meal, being as I have had to deal with trail rations for far too long! Go upstairs and find your lady if you want someone to wrap around your paw.”
A deep laugh emerged as the leopard smoothly became a rather tall-for-an-elf man. His hair was as long as Siofra’s or longer, a deep and firey red and carefully made into thousands of braids all over his head and bound with wooden beads at the ends. He *looked* like a druid, in leather and barefoot, and he had several green oak leaves stuck in his braids, seemingly at random. He plopped himself into a chair across from Cerellion and grinned. “If I went up the stairs, I’m afraid it’s my lady who would have me wrapped around *her* paw, and in fairly short order too. You must be Cerellion. I’ve had letters.” The druid stuck a hand out in a friendly way.
Cerellion sucks in a breath through his nose, staring at the man, before shaking his head and taking the hand. “That I am. And you are?’ He said, tucking back into his meal after.
The druid’s friendly grin never faltered, though he took note of the breath and the stare. If anything, the smile gained a note of sympathy. “Linn Amneholme,” he answered. “My friends call me Oak and if Herself has said anything about me at all, that’s probably the name you heard.”
The druid glanced over to the inkeeper and waved a hand. “Whatever he’s having looks fantastic, I’ll have one too!” Glancing back at Cerellion he chuckled. “It smelled too good as a leopard to resist. I caught a scent of Siofra on the wind and I’ve been prowling through inns ever since. I was beginning to think I’d never find all of you.” His face went serious. “Is she okay? Are all of you? I’ve been worried sick since I got her last letter. It was some time ago.”
Cerellion looked at him for a longer moment. “Tan is dead. Slain in the final battle against the Twilight. And she has mentioned you, though not much. She can be a private person.” He says this matterof factly, though there is a ghost of pain in his eyes at the mention of Tan. “Other than that, we are all fine.”
“Where did you meet Siofra, by the by?”
Oak’s eyes close, pained, at the news about Tan. “Two companions she has lost in such a short time.” He speaks a short phrase in Druidic, and while Cerellion certainly can’t understand it, he might recognize it as the same that Siofra spoke over Tan’s body herself.
“I met her,” he answers after a moment, “in the grove in Waterdeep after she arrived here the first time. She’d come to the Goddess’ grove several times and I decided that it was time I meed the only other druid I’ve ever met with a leopard. I’m afraid my tricks are limited – I walked up to her as a leopard and stuck my head in her lap. She thought I was Tan and talked to me for quite a long time before realizing I was playing a trick on her.”
“You met her much sooner than I, I think? Though I do not know how. She speaks of you as a good friend.” Oak watched Cerellion thoughtfully.
“We met in Cormyr. On a mission to cull some orcs from the King’s Forest. I had set out alone, and met up with them on the path into the forest. My luc, since I cannot think I would have fared well on my own.”
Oak snorted. “Mages are generally to be feard in most situations, if they choose to be fearsome. I do not know all of what you have just accomplished, of course – and unless the rest of you choose to reveal what I do not already know, I will not ask. But you would not have come back if you were not powerful in your own right.” Oak leaned his chin on his hand and watched Cerellion closely, apparently trying to decide whether to say something or not.
“You have the urge to speak written on your face.” Cerellion observed, pushing his finished plate away, and taking a hold of his wineglass. “Please, do not restrain yourself.”
Oak sighed and leaned back, toying with a bit of venison on the end of a knife. Finally he looked Cerellion dead in the eye. “She is very easy to love, isn’t she? You hide it very well. But I know my own feelings when I see them.” He propped one bare foot up on his chair and slung an arm over his knee. “If I’d realized, I’d have left you alone and gone sniffing up the stairs instead of adding to your burden.”
Cerellion just looked at him for a long moment, before sighing and giving a crooked, slightly bitter half smile. “Just as well you are one of the few to piece that together, I suppose. I am not used to being so, transparent.”
“You’re not overly transparent, actually. One man in love knows another. I am sorry for you, but for Siofra I’m glad. I couldn’t have wished for someone to watch her back better than someone who loves her as much.”Oak returned the crooked half-smile. “What happens now, hm?”
“I believe she has made her choice clear. Rest assured that I will not muddy the waters for you.”
That wasn’t precisely what I meant.” Oak chuckled a bit. “I meant, do you plan on staying around, coming over to visit and so forth, or will this be painful for you, so that you feel you must remove yourself from her life? I do not mean to press you to one or the other, brother, but I would like to know, so that I can ease this – for you, should you stay and for her should you go.”
Cerellion shrugs. “I intend to stay in the city, to study. I do not think she would take it well if I avoided her, nor would I want to. In either case, I would want to be sure she is well. I am, after all, very fond of her.”
Oak nodded, and then extended his hand a second time. “I like you, mage. I may not be the person you were happiest to meet on your return, but I hope eventually we’ll be friends.”
“One can hope.” He said whimsically, taking his hand in turn.
Oak nodded and then stood. “And now, my friend, I hope you will pardon me.” He glanced up the stairs and then back to Cerellion. “Enjoy your meal. I hope we will meet again soon.” The druid was suddenly a leopard again, one that flicked a feline wink at Cerellion before lowering his nose to the ground and heading unerringly up the stairs for the individual rooms.
Cerellion watched as the cat leapt up the stairs, and then sighed. “Innkeep! More wine, if you please.”