The day had finally come for Tempus, Son of Agravelenon. The mighty priest had faced orc warlords, vampire-necromancers, fiends, the Lords of Doom, and even the Black One of the Vale, but none of these threats, yea, even all of them put together, inspired as much fear as the ordeal he was going to go through today.
Today, he was getting married.
Had it been but a simple ceremony, he could have faced it easily. The ceremony was far from being simple, however. King Archbold had declared the day a national holiday, so that anyone who was invited could attend. Special dispensation had been given to Tanamier to return from the Almorian front to attend the wedding of his priest-brother, and as many members of the original Scourge of the Underdark were also invited to attend. Some could not, however, and it was of these that Tempus thought of now.
Dhel, Prannik, Gorath, Caelynn, Tarax, Cyndr, Elric, Sylhm, Erronion… how many people had entered his life only to have violence claim them soon afterwards? He had to admit to himself that irrevocable death had come close many times to claiming him as well. How could he, in all honesty, make a vow of lifelong commitment when that life might be cut short by a marauding fiend the very next day? His life would constantly be in danger; the power of Agravelenon‘s Son must not be held in check, and his role as foremost priest of the warrior-god was far too important to give up. Yet, his love for Tamarina was also strong, surviving several lifetimes until the destruction of Strahd von Zarovich revealed their true identities to each other, a fact Tempus was still uncomfortable with.
There was also his unborn child to think of. Inkaneesta had been very forceful on that point, and he could not really disagree. Not that he wanted to. The image of a proud, strapping lad fighting alongside him against the undead forces of Duke Szeffrin was not unpleasant. What was unpleasant, however, was the idea that one of the Duke’s demons would be responsible for the death of that son. Surely his lifestyle would contribute to his son or daughter desiring all the perils and dangers that come with the life of an adventurer.
In other words, Tempus was afraid his life would change.
He just didn’t know if it was for the better or worse.
The Gifted One wandered the halls of his magically constructed fortress, reflecting as he always did that if he had had to design and construct it himself, it would never have been erected. Fortunately, the Deck of Many Things had taken care of that. A new thought came to him now: I can’t even get a temple to my god raised because I spend my time ‘adventuring’; how am I going to raise a son?
It was still a few hours before dawn when Tempus wandered into the kitchen for some warm ale. He continued to ponder his situation as the tepid liquid went down his throat. A conversation he had with Ambrose Gregor of Geoff came to mind. The paladin had spoken with him about his own family situation, having to leave behind his family to fight for their safety and freedom, with his wife and children uncertain of his fate. Hadn’t it been difficult to concentrate on the task at hand with the welfare of his family constantly on his mind? No, Ambrose had replied. Knowing I was fighting for my family made me fight all the harder. Just don’t tell His Grace Owen…
It made a weird sort of sense, Tempus had to admit.
Maybe it’s just the suit I have to wear that I’m reacting to, thought the hero.
He turned to leave the kitchens when a voice called to him from the shadows. It was familiar in many ways, yet he could not place it. Was it someone he had met many years ago, or just months? He couldn’t be sure…
“Hello, my brother,” whispered the voice, with just a hint of menace.
“No. Not Tanamier. Someone much closer to you than a mere theological connection. Do you not recognize me? Of course not. Why should you? When you stole the only thing that mattered to me and flaunted it in my face, you didn’t recognize what you were doing to me then, so why should you now?”
“I’m sorry, but I’m not following you. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who are you?”
A pair of red eyes glowed in response. “I am your brother, Sergei.” The figure emerged from the shadows and revealed it self to be Strahd, the vampire lord defeated by the Scourge all those months ago. “Come, let us lock in brotherly embrace!” shouted the creature as it leapt at Tempus.
The warrior-priest dodged beneath one of the heavy oaken tables and rolled to the other side, coming up with a butcher’s knife in his hand for defense. Strahd laughed mockingly and leapt at Tempus again. The priest swung the knife truly, but it merely passed through the dread vampire while the evil creature’s fist slammed into the side of his head, sending him sprawling across the floor.
Tempus was stunned from the blow, but was also weakened by the incredible link the vampire had with the Negative Material Plane. The resultant energy loss had left him almost five years older than he had been. Summoning his courage, he called upon his deity to grant him the power to destroy the night creature, and turned to face it, arms outstretched, ready to release the power as he had done so many times in the past.
Strahd chuckled in a low voice. “No one is going to help you this time, Sergei. Your accursed blade is nowhere to be found, and your god has abandoned you! The Powers That Be rarely look well upon infanticide!”
“NO!” cried Tempus. “I did what I had to do! They were about to free a terribly evil artifact! They had to be stopped at any cost!”
Strahd paused. “Any cost? The life of an innocent child? What a father you will make!” With that, the vampire threw a cutting knife where it hit Tempus in the shoulder, causing blood to gush from the wound.
I should have been able to dodge that! He’s right! I killed a child! A little girl! How could I do that!?
“Because you are selfish, Sergei. You always have been. How did you amass so much power so quickly? Have you never wondered? Because you do it at the expense of others, Sergei. Who knows how many of your adventuring companions would be alive today had you thought better of your actions? If you had been more generous with dweomered items? If you had bothered to put others before yourself? You couldn’t even save Tatyanna. You were too busy in revelry with others to be with her. You bring destruction and death through your actions wherever you go, and now Death has demanded your soul as payment!”
The vampire leapt at Tempus again, and this time he could not dodge. The vampire-lord gripped him by the throat with both hands, sucking his life-energy out with his very touch. Tempus tugged at the creature’s hands, but could not break its grip.
“How could you proceed with this, thinking it was fair? That you were perhaps owed this? I was the one who had the responsibilities! I was the one who sacrificed! I was the one who did everything! You! You were a pretty boy who had everything handed to him on a silver platter and a golden spoon in your mouth!” the vampire raged. “How can you claim you love her? You have no ability to appreciate what that means!”
“That’s not true!” screamed Tempus. “I’ve seen death! I’ve seen tragedy! Sadness! I know exactly what I have, and I won’t let you take it away from me!” He broke free from Strahd‘s grip and backed away to the wall, but felt several cold hands hold him fast with unnatural strength.
Strahd composed himself. “Yes, you have seen sadness and death,” he said with unnatural calm.
“One should always bear witness to the fruits of one’s acts of destruction. Allow me to introduce you to the people who hold you as we speak. The one to your right is Thaddeus Fronticliff, and to your left is his wife, Marta. The small child is his eldest son, Luke, while the hardly formed child gripping your ankle is their unborn child that Marta was pregnant with at the time of their demise.”
Tempus struggled uselessly against the hold of the zombies. “I don’t understand! I killed no such people!”
Strahd smiled, fully revealing his fangs. “Ahhh, but you did. Through your actions they, and scores like them, were summarily executed and raised in their current forms. Or had you forgotten the slave farm that was killed in retaliation for what you had done? They had plans in life, Sergei, not unlike those you naively dream of regarding yourself, Tatyanna, and the bastard child she carries. They had their plans cut short; what makes you deserving of yours?”
Tears formed in Tempus‘ eyes. “We had no idea that would happen. We were trying to free a country; how could we predict that?”
“I didn’t know? That is the summation of your defense? Ahhhh, Sergei, I truly expected better. And Tatyanna certainly deserves better than the dullard you’ve become. I am truly the better man now. If the playing field were equal, I’m certain she would choose me.”
Terror surged within Tempus‘ heart. “What do you mean ‘equal playing field?'”
“I think you know, Sergei. Fear not, in respect for the brotherly love we shared all those lifetimes ago, I shall be gentle.”
Tempus screamed, for he knew what was coming, but the zombies still held him fast. Strahd bent over his shoulder wound and pressed his mouth against it. Tempus wailed in rage and frustration, but could do nothing as Strahd drank deeply of his blood. Memories flooded his brain, of striking the killing blow against the shadow dragon, the battle against the Grand Savant of the Aboleth, and blasting Strahd with his Sunblade. Finally, the memory of Tamarina, recognizing her at last for who she was, the lost love of his life that he had been chasing through countless incarnations, and the love that resulted in his unborn child, mere days away from entering the world he had fought so hard to right.
“NO!” he screamed. “I’ve beaten you once, and by the gods, I’ll do it again!” He threw the zombies aside effortlessly and punched Strahd across the face, surprising the vampire.
“You arrogant, strutting fool! Did you really think I would let you enjoy this day? She’s mine! I cannot die until she dies with me! There is nothing you can do about that!” Strahd paused. “And soon you will be in no position to resist me. The change is already occurring within you; I will squash your will completely when you are my vampiric minion.”
“No, you won’t Strahd,” responded Tempus. “You really don’t know what you’re dealing with here. I am no longer your weaker, younger brother, as in previous lifetimes. I am Tempus, Son of Agravelenon the Agressor, and the most powerful Gifted One of the world! My god has not abandoned me! He stands by me through my failures because his Chosen One has always sought to redeem himself, and there is no better redemption than annihilating evil!”
Tempus gave a mighty yell as he extended his right hand and called down the power of his god. A magnificent bolt of flame roared down and completely incinerated the vampire, leaving nothing but ashes in a small pile.
Tempus looked around him. He lay in his bed, sheets tussled and twisted, soaked with his sweat. A dream, he thought. It made sense. He had been apprehensive about the nightmares Tamarina had been receiving, so it was only logical that Strahd, the one he supposed was sending those nightmares, appeared in his dream. And of course, there were other reasons.
“I’m all right, my friend and loyal servant,” said Tempus. “I was merely having one last battle before embarking upon the greatest decision of my life.”
J’afrock cocked an eyebrow. “With whom were you battling?”
“Myself. It seems I had unresolved issues with my past that needed dealing with.”
“And have you dealt with them?”
“I believe so.”
J’afrock took on a serious look. “That is good. One cannot escape one’s past. Indeed, that is rarely the wise thing to do, since it would prevent one from learning from one’s experiences. But it is good that you do not let the past hold sway over you.”
Tempus smiled. His half-orc companion always managed to surprise him. While many who had adventured with J’afrock respected his great strength and battle prowess, it was a very few that managed to benefit from his unique wisdom. Tempus felt privileged to be amongst that select few. Of course, this was one area where J’afrock was something of an expert, since his own past included being genetically engineered by the Scarlet Brotherhood as well as being right-hand man for the despot of the Pomarj, Turrosh Mak. “Will you be returning to sleep then?” asked J’afrock.
“No, I don’t think so. The wedding is only eight hours away, and I still have to properly attire myself,” said Tempus, gazing apprehensively at his wedding costume laid over his dresser. J’afrock looked in the same direction with the same expression. “Eight hours? We may not have enough time…”
Tempus smiled for the first time that day…
Tempus was not smiling as he waited by the altar.
Tanamier stood next to him, looking equally uncomfortable. The half-elf had shaved for the occasion (probably at the insistence of Inkaneesta, thought Tempus), and seemed to also be having trouble with his wedding outfit.
“That’s what we get for spending our time running around in plate armor,” whispered Tempus. “We can’t even dress like normal, civilized people without difficulty.”
Tempus smirked and looked around the church. King Archbold had certainly not wasted any money setting up the celebration. It used to be a temple to Heironeous, but was now decorated with symbols of Agravelenon, Parthen, and Heirophylia. There was a mass of people gathered, many of whom Tempus didn’t really know, at least by name. After all the invitations had been returned, Archbold had let it be known that any leftover space would be open to the public. Tempus had saved many lives, and so many were anxious to see their hero get married.
And they’re all looking at me, thought the priest as he waited for his bride-to-be to walk through the golden doors. I bet they’re saying that I look much shorter up close, or that my muscles don’t quite bulge like the bards sing, and ‘Where’s that electrical energy that’s supposed to be crackling all about him?’ Sorry to disappoint you all, but underneath all the legends and lore, I’m really just an ordinary man who finds himself in extraordinary situations. This train of thought led him back to a conversation he had with his elven vassal, Tiemel, only a few hours ago…
He had gone to visit Tiemel in his chambers in order to finalize certain aspects of the wedding reception that the elven warrrior had declared himself the chief of. Tiemel had gotten a bit of a fan following himself; normally beautiful by elven standards, the Deck of Many Things had greatly increased his natural charisma and he had begun giving swordsmanship lessons in Rel Mord. More than one comely female had stopped by to gaze appreciatively at the shirtless swashbuckler as he fought and defeated a dozen warriors in mock duel under a hot sun. While Tiemel claimed it was all beneath his notice, Tempus was sure there would be more than one elven tune to which his vassal could show off to tonight.
Tempus nodded and looked around cautiously.
The elf smiled. “Don’t worry, I’m quite alone this morning. Really, the way you all exaggerate so much…”
“Well, there was that time when I went to fetch you at your fencing arena and you were…”
“I was doing my exercises, as I had specifically told you. Now, if we’re quite done with that, let’s see what Her Holy Priestess sent me.”
Tiemel opened the elaborately wrapped package to behold a beautifully crafted set of armour. Supple, light, and obviously made to fit the form of himself, Tiemel held the suit up against him. It was a blend of subtle, yet powerful colors, like a sky at sunset.
“Isn’t it excellent, my lord? What a superb job she’s done! I couldn’t have asked for better!”
Tempus examined the armour. “Is this the hide of that cloud dragon you defeated?”
“The very same.”
Tempus smiled at his friend. “You know, you’re really the only one I know who could engage a cloud dragon in its own element and win. At least, you’re the only one I know who’s crazy enough.”
Tiemel winked mischievously at his lord. “When you find yourself in a crazy situation, sometimes crazy is the only appropriate response on one’s part.”
“What do you mean?”
Tiemel sat on the edge of his bed and looked directly at Tempus, completely serious now. “What I mean is, we make it a point to place ourselves in situations that are, quite frankly, insane. Is it sane to willingly enter an undead-filled cavern system so that we can purposely engage a bunch of wizards who can literally turn off our souls of with a mere gesture? To engage a demonic being from Gehenna who can sever limbs with single swipes of its blade? Of course not! And yet, no one has to convince us to do these things; we volunteer! This is the very essence of defying reason. And yet we do it. Because we have to. We are mortals who seek out unjust extraordinary situations and then do what we have to do.”
Tempus smiled. “Which is go insane.”
“I see. Well, it’s not exactly like receiving guidance from the Holy Canon in Veluna, but your words have helped a little bit, and for that I thank you. Will you be wearing your armour this evening?”
“It is attractive enough, isn’t it?”
“Yes. In fact, I was thinking that we could all do the same, since I believe we should be at our most comfortable.”
Tiemel silenced him with a glare. “You are joking, aren’t you? Your wisdom may be above reproach in theological and warfare matters, my lord, but you are quite the dullard when it comes to wedding etiquette, if I may say so.”
So I’m discovering, thought Tempus as he left the room.
“How am I supposed to say anything when I can hardly breathe!” whispered Tanamier in a harsh voice to his priest-brother.
“Don’t look at me, I didn’t choose these outfits,” replied the groom-to-be. “I’m not exactly breathing easy myself, you know.”
“What I know is that the last time I felt this way, we had engaged the Necromancers of Skahlehn in their Greyhawk stronghold and that bastard Andrade Mirrius had us all suffocating in exactly this fashion!”
“In fact, I think the material component was this exact brand of collar…” “Are you allowed to say ‘bastard’ in a temple?” whispered Tempus, trying to calm his friend.
“Me, for one,” said Inkaneesta in a tight voice through smiling teeth. “The two of you are causing a spectacle. If you can keep your composure in the Cursed Caverns of Sorrow, you can do it through a wedding ceremony.”
I don’t know, thought Tempus. Right now, destroying undead sounds a lot easier than getting through this thing. Tempus looked at Inkaneesta and Tanamier, who were trying to avoid eye contact. Still, it’s got to be harder for them. He thought back to a scene he had witnessed mere hours ago…
While he had been waiting to greet him when he arrived from the Almorian front, Tempus hadn’t really gotten a chance to speak with Tanamier at length. He desperately needed to do so now, before events left them too busy. However, as he approached Tanamier‘s quarters, he heard another voice from within. Feeling sheepish, he stayed outside and listened.
“It remains very difficult,” said a bone-weary Tanamier as he unpacked his belongings. “Duke Szeffrin organizes a few raids to test us, but it’s so hard to anticipate, since the raiding groups invariably contain demons who can teleport far behind our lines and disrupt things. I really think the only thing keeping Szeffrin from sweeping into Nyrond is our lack of resources. We’re just not worth it.”
“They call him the ‘Iron Duke‘. They say his skin is as difficult to penetrate as a golem’s of the same name. Is it true?” spoke Inkaneesta. Tanamier shrugged. “Who can say? None have engaged him to test the theory, though I would dearly love to take a crack at it.”
Inkaneesta went pale. “You would? They also say that, in addition to being the finest military mind ever produced by the Great Kingdom, he has killed over a thousand men in personal combat. Would you still rush forward to meet him?”
Tanamier had not yet looked up. “Yes, I would.”
“I suppose that would keep you from your other responsibilities. How comforting to know that engaging the animus-duke is preferable to dealing with me.”
“Now what is that supposed to mean?” said Tanamier, finally making eye contact.
“It means that you have been avoiding me for close to a year now. That ever since you brought me back from the icy lands I used to call home, you’ve taught me how to consciously control my gifts and that’s it.”
“That’s not true at all! We’ve seen each other on many occasions, and I’m not avoiding you.”
“I hardly call bringing in fallen comrades to have their life-force restored ‘seeing each other!’ I’ve been very useful to the lot of you, haven’t I? Any time there’s a serious injury, bring them to Inkaneesta! Well, there’s a person beneath the magic, which I believe you all have forgotten!”
Tanamier cast his eyes downward. “I haven’t forgotten,” he whispered.
“Oh, no? When His Majesty asked you to go to the Almorian Front to take charge of his forces there, you didn’t even consult me! You just packed as quickly as you could and off you went! I suppose I should feel lucky that you bothered to say goodbye to me. Did you think I’d have no opinion on the matter? Or is it that my opinion doesn’t matter? I’ve seen how you all look at Tempus with pity in your eyes. ‘We won’t be able to count on him anymore,’ you say, and you lament him being ‘tied down’ to Tamarina. Well, let me tell you something: Tempus is about to become the richest man of all of you, and I can guarantee you his fighting spirit will be even more powerful, not less so.”
Tanamier was still looking down. “That’s not true. I’m very aware of how lucky he is.”
Inkaneesta‘s face softened, along with her voice. “You could be that lucky too, you know. I love you. I’ve loved you from the moment I touched your soul to bring you back to me after the battle with the ice dragon. Every time you’re off to a new battle, I’m afraid something will happen to you and send you to a place that I won’t be able to bring you back from.”
Inkaneesta fought back her tears; her barbarian heritage still made her reluctant to show her emotions, no matter how powerful. “It’s just that it’s so difficult. Heirophylia represents love and marriage, and I’m her foremost priestess: single and in love with someone who doesn’t return it.”
Tanamier made a noise like a groan. When he looked up, his eyes were misted over. “No. You can’t possibly think that. Cast a spell. Look into my heart. Surely your goddess allows you to do so. See for yourself my true feelings for you.”
“Then why? Why the distance?”
Tanamier got up and walked over to Inkaneesta. He took her hand and knelt down before her. “I know it can be difficult. I know how hard it is to do things that go against the grain of your Power. Your not being married…”
Tanamier smiled. “`To me’ cannot be easy. But Parthen is the Knight Protector, and I am his foremost priest on Oerth. It’s my sworn duty to fulfill that role, and anything that causes me to waver from that has to be… well…”
Inkaneesta looked away. “Avoided?”
“Taken into careful consideration, at any rate. You know how our clerical powers work. A waver in faith by not doing the actions prescribed by our god can mean a lack of ability. The more faith we have, the better our spellcasting ability. That’s why you’ve been able to become so powerful so quickly; once you found out just who this mysterious Power was that was behind your gifts, your faith was like a meteor. The same applies to me. If I waver, though, it could mean hundreds of deaths. That’s why I went without hesitation to the Almorian front: where else would Parthen‘s Knight Protector go?” He hesitated. “Still, that’s not even the real reason.”
“Really, what is?” replied Inkaneesta, her voice quivering with choked back tears.
Tanamier gripped her lightly by the shoulders and turned her gently around to face him. He looked her full in her emerald eyes with his own blue orbs and brushed away a rogue tear that had begun streaming down her face. “You’ve had the dream, haven’t you? Don’t answer, I know you have. You know how painful it was for Parthen to abandon Heirophylia that day, don’t you? I carry my god’s pain in my heart, and it becomes an open wound every time I see you. I know it’s the same for you. I know it. It’s like there’s this impenetrable cloud of melancholy and sadness that surrounds us and corrupts every interaction we have. But, as bad as that is, how incredibly painful, it would be so much the worse if I, Tanamier, would have to do that to you. I couldn’t live. I would sooner face Szeffrin‘s endless hordes then inflict that kind of pain upon you Inkaneesta.”
Inkaneesta managed a small smile. “You may just get your wish,” she said, crying openly now.
Tanamier grinned in return. “The dream is clearly a warning. We have to learn from the mistake our gods made. There has to be a time when our faiths are not at odds with each other; at any other time we risk our marriage becoming a failure. I couldn’t bear it, not when I love you so much. I could fail at anything else, but to fail that…”
“I understand. I really think I do. And maybe that’s why, in spite of my unmarriedness, Heirophylia has still seen fit to grant my prayers. Moreover, maybe it means there may yet be a time for us.”
“I know it. I know it. And when it comes, not even Szeffrin‘s endless hordes will keep me from your side.”
Tempus left before he intruded upon the inevitable embrace.
Isn’t that even more reason to not get married? thought Tempus. After all, if Parthen‘s faith requires action on the part of his priests, Agravelenon‘s certainly does that and then some. And at least Inkaneesta is a priestess in her own right; Tamarina is… ordinary. Well, no. Far from ordinary, but not gifted with power like we are. Is what I’m doing fair to her? Will she be married only to be made a widow? Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe I can get out of here right now. He turned and saw Riyan looking straight at him. The half-elven ranger seemed to be reading his mind and his face read ‘Be strong!’. He remembered his companion’s words from before…
“Well struck, Larian!” said Tiemel as the priest of Corellon Larethian struck his sixth consecutive bullseye. “My dear Riyan, I think you’re going to have a hard time keeping up. After all, Holy Larian‘s god is the maker of the bow, and we both know you can’t beat the gods,” said Tiemel as he winked at Tempus.
Tempus smiled. He took a great bow from the rack and fit an arrow to the string. After a brief moment of concentration, he let the arrow fly. It sped towards the target and promptly split Larian‘s arrow right down the middle.
“You’re right,” he said, smiling and winking at Larian. “You can’t.”
Tempus laughed. “Go through with this afternoon, maybe!” After the laughter had quieted down, he continued, “But seriously, I’m beginning to wonder if I even have a right to do this. I can’t give up being who I am: a priest of a warrior-god. Wherever there’s conflict, I have to be there. Doesn’t sound like I’ll be giving Tamarina much of a home life, does it?”
“On the other hand, that will cause conflict, and then your god will order you home!” said Tiemel, to the laughter of his three companions. “The alternative is,” he continued, “to retire and live out the rest of your days at home.”
Tempus was stunned. “I… I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Before I joined your struggle against the Lords of Doom, I was part of the scouting contingent for Duke Owen‘s Free Geoffite Army,” began Riyan. “I was also very much in love with a girl named Zina. She was a simple farming girl, brought up with strong family values and a heart of gold. We were planning on getting married as you are now, and we faced the same issues. I decided that I had to choose between being in the military and being a husband; I saw the two as being in conflict somehow. When the Lords of Doom began their offensive, my scouting team didn’t give us the advance warning we needed and this allowed the bugbear shock troops to get within our defenses where they inflicted mass casualties… my fiance was one of them.”
“But, surely you don’t blame yourself. After all, you’re only one man; who’s to say you would have made a difference…”
Riyan nodded, staring off in the distance. “On the other hand, who’s to say I wouldn’t have? The point is, I refused to be true to myself, and tragedy followed. This isn’t to say that the same will happen to you, but Tamarina loves you for who you are, so why become someone else?”
“You don’t think I could last as a homebody?”
Riyan grinned. “No offense, Tempus, but I think you’d go stir crazy doing anything other than what you do. Tamarina would probably hurry you off to battle herself before long. Besides, when you hit sixty human years you won’t be able to trounce around in plate armour any more, so you’d better get your fun now.”
“I suppose you have a point,” said Tempus with a smile.
Be true to myself.
Sounds easy enough.
So… what’s the truth?
Is the truth that I shoulder some of the greatest responsibility for restoring Good to the Flanaess and that nothing stands in my way, or is the truth that I have loved this woman since gods-know-when and that nothing stands in the way of that? How can I know? How can…
The doors opened.
And Tempus knew.
He knew this more certainly and clearly than anything else in the universe. All doubts and uncertainties fled him at the very instant that the doors at the end of the aisle opened and he saw his bride-to-be.
Only one thought remained:
This is the most beautiful woman in the world coming to me to become my wife.
Tamarina started down the aisle with King Archbold of Nyrond on her left. She was draped in white and silver and gold, with golden faerie dust glittering and floating in her wake, much to the annoyance of the king who was, it went without saying, no longer used to such things. The dress was a gift from Ghiselinn, Royal Archmage in semi-retirement, who now stared with unabashed awe along with everyone else at the pair who walked down the aisle to meet Inkaneesta, Tanamier, and Tempus.
Nirifel Mendarin, the bard who had taken to recording the adventures of the Scourge for posterity, had begun playing the harpsichord as soon as Tamarina began her approach. The beautiful sounds of the instrument echoed and rebounded crystal-clearly throughout the temple, surely the result of a spell the bard had cast beforehand. However, when the time came for Duke Owen‘s daughter, Rhianna, to begin singing, she suffered a massive coughing fit. Tears formed in the young girl’s eyes as she struggled to regain her composure. Just then, a fit-looking elderly man stepped forward and comforted the young princess, putting her aside. He then began singing an incredibly ancient Flan song of marriage approach. Nirifel was astonished, but quickly adapted her playing to accommodate that of the singer who was captivating everyone with his powerful, commanding, yet entrancing voice. Needless to say, everyone had looks of surprise on their faces, but the beauty of the music and song caused them to forget and simply concentrate on the moment at hand. Tamarina and King Archbold continued their approach to the three Gifted Ones. Tempus had decided early on he would maintain a solemn, serious look but found he could not suppress the smile coming to his face as his beloved approached. She smiled in return and then looked at Inkaneesta, who gave her a smile and nod of approval.
Archbold took his arm out from under Tamarina‘s and placed her hand into Tempus‘. He then beamed a smile at the two of them and took his seat in the front. Tanamier stepped forward and wrapped a silken sash around the lovers’ hands, then stepped back. Inkaneesta addressed the crowd:
“Friends, relatives, countrymen, guests, and those looking for hope: Welcome. You are truly blessed this day to witness the union of souls between Tempus, Son of Agravelenon, and Tamarina Gregor, not simply because one should always consider oneself lucky to witness a union of love, but because through this ceremony, you are truly in the presence of the gods once again.
“Yes, it is true. In the past year, you have seen and heard of miraculous doings: the injured are healed, the dead rise, the blind can see and the demons are cast out. These miracles have been excellent in restoring your faith after the past few years, but it is only now, in this relatively small moment of peace, that you will truly see the work of the gods before you: Two people will make a vow of eternal loyalty, fidelity, and love to each other in this public place and in front of the gods after centuries of unsuccessfully pursuing each other. This is the true miracle of the gods; not a wound that stops bleeding, but a merging of two spirits in unselfish love. It is an action of the gods, done proactively, and not in reaction to some calamity. We cannot simply look to the gods only in our hours of need, but also in our hours of joy and happiness, for look what they can do! Death has tried many times to claim the two of them, and yet here they stand! United in their love and devotion to each other; and my friends, that is more powerful than any demon or undead horror that has ever walked the face of Oerth.”
The old man who had taken up Rhianna‘s singing duties stood and openly applauded Inkaneesta‘s words, completely uncaring that he was the only one doing so. “My dear,” he began, “you have put into words the secret magical formula that is the key to our existence in such dark times. You would all do well to listen!” he said, addressing the crowd at large.
“Our time of darkness has not yet passed completely, and yea, will not pass unless we remember this young woman’s words spoken here today. For the greatest tragedy Evil can accomplish is to make us forget how to love.” He then turned to the wedding couple and said, “Tempus, you’ve had your doubts, and no on can blame you, considering what life throws at you on a daily basis, but consider this: You are about to become more powerful than any being you’ve yet encountered, through the love this young woman has for you. Tamarina, you are about to accept a certain responsibility yourself, for what concerns Tempus now concerns you.
You are the secret power behind this man; you must always remember this role and do what you can to aid and help him, for he will need your strength and resilience more than his good sword-arm. Finally, I thank the both of you, for providing hope and faith to a world sorely lacking both.” He then turned with a flourish and headed out the great double doors, leaving everyone in the temple astonished. Ventrius went to look and came back with a perplexed face.
“Well?” demanded King Archbold.
Ventrius was flushed. “He met up with another man who was rather… peculiar.”
“Peculiar how?” asked Prince Sewarndt.
“He was dressed all in blue and had… blue skin.”
“Blue skin?” asked Sewarndt.
“Yes,” replied Ventrius. “Then they began skipping along the cobblestones until they… just faded out of sight.”
“How odd,” muttered Ghiselinn.
“Odd, perhaps,” said Tanamier. “But it was clearly a blessing of some sort, and we should take it as such.” He looked at his priest-brother and smiled. “And perhaps we should get on with the ceremony as well.”
The ceremony had continued without further interruption. Princess Rhianna redeemed herself by singing the exiting song, another ancient Flan tune, better than she had ever sung any song before. As the wedding couple exited, the wizards in attendance conjured flowers of all kinds to rain down in an incredible display of colour. There were masses of people waiting as they left the temple and a wild cheer went up as soon as the crowds caught sight of the wedding couple. People good-naturedly crowded around Tempus and Tamarina, giving them their blessings and well-wishes, and provided a sort of escort back to the royal palace where the wedding reception awaited them.
Tempus looked around the great hall at all the people gathered; it was almost a biography of his life since he became Agravelenon‘s Son: King Archbold and his sons Lynwerd and Sewarndt; Archmage Ghiselinn; the Grey Seer; Darafeyen, the Rockseer elf wizard; Carmeneren, the svirfneblin priestess; the old wizard Tauster and his former apprentice, Jelenneth; Stephen Van Richten, the vampire hunter; King Lolgoff of the Ice Barbarians and his entourage; Prince Melf Brightflame and his bladesinger lieutenant, Tinthalas Kaiyne; Kieran Jalucian of the Guild of Wizardry in Greyhawk with his (rumoured) paramour Jallarzi Sallavarian of the Circle of Eight; Tigran Gellner of the City Watch of the same city; Griffith Adarian, the melancholy druid; the Archmages Bigby, Otto, and Drawmij; and his former adventuring companions Akira of the Jetai-Ryu, S’thiss the dark elf, and the paladin Sir Graymore. So many people whose lives he had touched in some manner; he mentally relived the scenarios in which he had met them as the first course of the meal was served. And he was sure he would meet many more before his adventures were through.
He scanned the hall again. Field General Younard was speaking with Tanamier and Inkaneesta; the old man had a real liking for Tanamier, which was lucky, since technically Tanamier had replaced him as commander of the troops at the Almorian front, though only technically, since Archbold and Royal General Basmajeen gave the orders there. Younard had been aware of the incompetence of these latter two since the beginning of the wars, but could not bring himself to act against his king. With the arrival of Tanamier, his spirit seemed rekindled; Tanamier knew that Younard wanted to participate in at least one last great military campaign before he retired.
Prince Melf Brightflame was speaking with Gelleflair Entrell, an elven war wizard known throughout Nyrond as something of a sage due to the many contacts he has. Tempus had earlier tried to speak to the prince, but the subject of Caelynn Silverleaf came up and the prince rather coldly informed Tempus that that was a subject he no longer spoke about. Whether this was because he still held Caelynn in contempt or was feeling responsible for the bladesinger’s apparent suicide, Tempus couldn’t be sure.
Tempus was sure that the archmage Drawmij was feeling guilty about the death of the beautiful dark elf, Tyslin San. The handsome wizard sat alone in the corner, drinking Celene honeynectar, while his companion Otto was still perusing the sweetmeat table. Drawmij had attended the wedding out of courtesy, but little else. Never a social person to begin with, this party could not be going well for the archmage, though he showed a reluctance to leave, as people who are depressed are wont to do.
Otto had stacked his plate high with all sorts of edibles, and was now speaking with the much more reclusive and puritanical Bigby. Otto, while having never met any of the Scourge like his two colleagues, had come anyway for three reasons: 1) He never missed a good party; 2) Archbold rather liked the idea of having three powerful mages he could court under friendly circumstances; and 3) He intended to speak with Tanamier and Younard. It was a well-known secret that Otto was a native of Almor, and that he had barely escaped with his life when Szeffrin and his massive army were cementing their hold on the land. Otto, having employed adventurers before like many of his colleagues in the Circle of Eight, clearly wanted the Scourge to strike out at some of Szeffrin‘s important citadels, such as Millenium, or even Onyxgate or Bloodcrystal.
Prince Sewarndt was chatting by the fireplace with Ghiselinn and his lord, Duke Arnon Oberend of Hendrenn Halgood. Sewarndt was a former apprentice of Ghiselinn, and Ghiselinn now resided in Oberend‘s city, feeling too powerless to continue to advise Archbold. It was known around court that this had caused some tension between the two wizards, and that the prince would periodically try to get Ghiselinn to reverse his decision, since the king now relied almost solely upon The Grey Seer, to the discomfort of both his sons. Ghiselinn, however, while remaining polite, would always turn his former student down.
Akira, S’thiss and Sir Graymore were speaking with Jelenneth and her former tutor, Tauster. Tempus reflected that this young woman was the reason that the Scourge of the Underdark had come together in the first place, and that they consequently owed her much. She was an extremely powerful wizard now, though appeared to be handling it poorly, since she often complained of headaches and nightmares, and would sometimes awaken somewhere without knowing how she got there. Tauster assured her it was a result of trafficking with the creatures of the planes for information, but the three heroes seemed unsure. There seemed to be some sort of bond between Jelenneth and Graymore, perhaps because they both lost their fathers, thought Tempus. Graymore had never found his father in the passages of the Underdark, and Jelenneth‘s father was dead, slain by whomever was now masquerading as Darius Carman.
The dancing and festivities continued long into the night, dominated by elven music (big surprise considering who’s in charge, thought Tempus) and speeches and political conversation. It truly bespoke Nyrond’s poor state of affairs to see King Archbold courting Duke Owen of Geoff for aid; the Duke had just recently regained partial control of his lands, and was in no position to offer help anywhere. Still, he listened politely.
When the last song ended, Tiemel went over to the orchestra to give them whispered instructions. Clumsily at first, though picking it up as they went along, the musicians began to play a strange but beautiful tune. Tempus could only presume it was another elven tune, and since it was a slow dance, took Tamarina‘s hand at started for the dance floor. But then he noticed that Tiemel, who had obviously requested the music, was not yet dancing, but waited with Princess Rhianna (who had been his partner for several dances), for something to happen. Likewise with Prince Melf, who had his arm around the waist of Darafeyen. The music was both haunting and uplifting, but seemed to be missing something, and a feeling of anticipation had settled down upon the crowd. Tempus looked to where Tiemel was gazing. Drawmij was still in his dark corner, his wineglass still in his hand, staring at the tablecloth. He seemed to recognize the song and locked eyes with Tiemel. Tempus thought for a horrible moment that he would disintegrate Tiemel on the spot. Instead, the mage got up from his seat and reached deeply into his magical bag. He withdrew a beautiful, ornate, and very old elven harp. He stood by the orchestra and began playing. At first, it was so light and delicate that it seemed he was not, in fact, playing. As the song went on though, it became more pronounced. The missing element from the song was now present, and Tempus knew he had never heard anything so beautiful. He began dancing with Tamarina, and other couples now joined the dancefloor. Before dancing with the fiery redhead Rhianna, Tiemel nodded once at Drawmij, who flickered his eyes in return. The elven warrior had now apologized for his behaviour in their last encounter in a fashion most elven. Tempus shook his head, knowing he would never understand elves completely.
Tempus spied Ventrius speaking with the druid of Greyhawk, Griffith Adarian. They had met Adarian when hunting the Necromancers of Skahlehn in Greyhawk City; he was melancholy then, and seemed worse now. Ventrius on the other hand, was now a strapping young man, full of confidence and energy. Which he would need, if he were to take the forests of the Duchy of Ulek back from the Shadow Circle and their drow “allies.” Why they were speaking elven, Tempus couldn’t guess. Perhaps Ventrius had been spending too much time with his new allies, Legolaas and Arthua.
Having purposely been given the heaviest oak table, King Lolgoff and his entourage were doing their best to drain Nyrond’s ale supply all on their own. Rowdy and carousing, Tempus couldn’t suppress a smile when looking upon them. Wild and chaotic, they still possessed a strange sense of honour, and that was what brought them here today, since Inkaneesta had been one of their own, and they would not miss her performing this holy ceremony. Only a matter of time before Archbold gets around to them, thought Tempus as an arm-wrestling contest at the barbarians’ table was about to spill out of control.
It had seemed the party would never end, but like all good things it had to. Tempus was on the balcony, staring out at the rising sun when his wife came to join him. “Reconsidering, my beloved?” she asked.
Tempus took her into his arms and, considering his inner struggles preceding this event, replied with much conviction, “No.” He kissed her full on the lips, a kiss that would have lasted forever, had there not been a violent interruption.
“Ohhhh,” said Tamarina, grimacing. “It would seem our son or daughter is annoyed that he or she missed out on the festivities. That was a mighty kick.”
“Indeed,” said Tempus as he placed his hand on his wife’s rounded belly, smiling. “It is a fine warrior you have got in there,” he said proudly. “My progeny will surely eclipse even Agravelenon‘s Son in deeds of daring and valour.”
“Yes, he will,” said a familiar voice. Melting out of the shadows was a figure dressed in deepest black, providing the illusion of a disembodied head and hands. Blondish and youthful-looking with delicate hands, the Shadow-Mage stepped forward to the newlyweds. “My sincerest congratulations to you both. You have come a long way to get to this point.”
Tempus instinctively took a defensive position in front of Tamarina. “What is it you want?” “Only to provide you with my own wedding gift, mighty Tempus. Do not worry, I am not offended that I was not invited; I did not leave you an address to send the invitation. Nevertheless, I have a gift to bestow to you. Through your association with the monk Griften, you are aware of the powers of the mind.”
“But he is amongst others, whose company is much less enjoyable. Nevertheless, you are aware of how, through these gifts, one mind may speak to another. My dear, this is for you,” the Shadow-Mage said as he handed a small box wrapped in reflective black paper to Tamarina. He then turned to Tempus and gave him a similar package. Exchanging glances, the newlywed couple opened them gingerly, with the mysterious wizard smiling at them both. Inside each package was half a locket, carved out of onyx and polished expertly. The form was that of half a heart. They both looked to the Shadow-Mage.
“Put them on,” he instructed.
Not sensing any malice from the sorceror, Tempus and Tamarina did as instructed. Instantly, Tamarina‘s face magically appeared upon Tempus‘ locket, and the reverse happened for Tamarina. A slight wave of dizziness swept over both of them, but when it passed, every thought the one had, the other received. It was a closeness and intimacy like they had never felt before. Moreover, the memories and emotions they had felt throughout all their past lives were now accessible; the feeling was almost overwhelming.
Looking up with his eyes wet, Tempus whispered, “Thank you.”
“It is my pleasure,” he responded simply. He had turned to go, but Tamarina called out to him.
“Wait! You said ‘he’. We’re about to have a boy?! How do you know?”
The Shadow-Mage smiled. “Yes, you are going to have a son. I would explain how I know, but I sense the arrival of one whose presence I would find… uncomfortable, so I must take my leave. Farewell.” With that, he disappeared into the shadows again, though he was gone and not merely hiding, Tempus was sure.
“I don’t understand. Who is coming?” asked Tamarina of her husband. As if to answer her question, a bright flash of pale blue light erupted upon the balcony, opening what Tempus recognized as a gate. Through it stepped the astral deva, Callimar. As always, Tempus felt humbled in the presence of the beautiful bronze-skinned, white-haired aasimon, who now glided down upon the balcony with his feathery wings, to land next to Tempus and Tamarina. When he spoke, it was as he always did, full of charisma and very persuasive.
“The immortal god is proud of his mortal son. It bespeaks well of thee, Tempus, to have done so great a deed as you have done today. Agravelenon could not have chosen better for his first, and most powerful, Gifted One. On my own, I am proud and pleased to have made your acquaintance, mortal. The joining of two souls such as you have done today is something even we aasimon cannot do and therefore recognize the value of. As my own gift to thee, I am once more in your service for three tasks. As before, you have merely to chant the summoning mantra thrice, and I will battle on your side as before.
Fare thee well.” With that, the angelic being soared off towards the coming sunrise.
Tempus surmised that she may have stayed that way forever, but then something even more pressing happened.
Tempus knelt down beside her, confused. “What?! What is it, beloved?”
“You can read my thoughts, you dolt! It’s our son! I’m going to give birth to our son!”
“You’re entering labour?” said Tempus, incredulously.
“Yes!! Now get me some help!”
Tempus was shocked back into reality. “Tamarina! She’s giving birth! On the balcony!” Inkaneesta grabbed her holy symbol and started out the door. Glaring at Tempus, Tanamier did likewise, leaving Agravelenon‘s son standing alone, dumbfounded in the bedchamber.
“My son is about to be born. My son…”
Laughing with hysteria that only the happiest of people have, Tempus ran to join his wife and friends.