Her Name Is River Celeste

On the ship, Rivanon approached Emmeline and said, “Well Em, in the month you were in with the Archmagus Revan, I was busy setting up my backstory. It is pretty solid, though I’d like to know what you think.”

“Hello, my name is River Celeste. At least that is my stage name. I was born Rivé Siena and I am 19 this year. Ever since I remember I’ve been called River. The ‘Celeste’ comes from my love of astronomy originally, taught to me by my father. A young suitor, Etienne de Montmaré called me that, mostly in trying to seduce me as a ‘celestial beauty’ and it stuck. I’ll always thank him for that nickname, though his seduction did not succeed as he hoped.

“My father is a fencing instructor, Ridolfo Siena of Esté, ancestral home of the Thalassan Patricians the Esté, though I doubt they are related to me as they left nearly 500 years ago for Thalassa. In any event, I am not Thalassan, though I’ve lived here for awhile. My father bedded some young serving girl in Caradec on his way here, only to have the mother’s very angry father dump me on the steps of the Cafillier Fencing School at age 7 to my father’s surprise. Luckily father covered it up (I’m not his only bastard, but his favorite).

“Using his connections, he was able to get me instructions in poetry, singing, art, and even a touch of bardic magic in exchange for his training at a discount. He served a number of great Patrician and Merchant houses on the Isle and throughout the Periphery. I became an associate first of the merchant Salvator Fabrini, also a Savonian, and then Francis Alphére of the Second Phoenix, learning the ropes of being a minstrel. It has been a tough life from time to time, but so far fun.

“Recently I partnered with the young songstress Emmeline and her compatriots on a grand adventure. Who knows where this adventure will take me?”

Rivanon finished with, “So, what do you think?”

“Hm.” Emmeline considered. “Not bad. But if you wish to connect with common folk, you’ll want to tone down the fame of your fictional father. He’s too close to the upper class — people will think you snooty if you talk of him that way and might not believe you anyway. 

“Of course, you won’t divulge your background unless directly asked. Best in fact, if you do not mention a Thalassan background. When people realize I’m from Thalassa, I have noticed they treat me differently. I lose some of the connection I need to maintain to provide my very best performances. You see, the crowd is just as important as the performer. More so, in fact, because we entertainers depend on their good will to survive. We must never make them think we believe we are better than they are. We must therefore always treat every patron as a lord and lady. They will love us for it.

“The bastard angle is good, though. Keep that. It may help provide a connection. Think on it and imagine how your life might have gone if you were a bastard child brought up by a humble man, perhaps a servant. There you may find a starting place for some songs. But the greatest songs will come with experience and from speaking with those we visit.”

“But I already paid Ridolfo to back up the story,” she said with a touch of melancholy. “Though I’m hoping not to use it except if necessary.” 

After a pause, she continued, “I have to be honest Em. I’m not one of the common folk of the Periphery. I don’t know much about them as I left a long time ago. I want to understand them, but I have no desire to be them. I can play the game though to learn.” 

She added, “As far as this masquerade, I do have skills that they would never have, education and knowledge that they would never know. A Savonian expatriate just might have some of those skills. They are mysterious, and after training with Ridolfo this past year, I believe I can do a decent Savonii accent.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll do fine,” Emmeline said with a smile. “All you really need to do is follow my lead a few times. You’ll figure out what to say, and even pick up local dialects and mannerisms as we go. You are a bard and perhaps the most perceptive person I’ve ever met. This stuff is going to become second nature to you. In fact, if you don’t become better at this than I am in short order, I’ll be very surprised.”

Emmeline held up the letter from Vanwe she held in one hand. “I received a very thoughtful letter from Magus Vanwe who is sponsoring me within the college of illusion and enchantment. She mentions some things about how to use my provisional status in the wizards guild, but I hope they will not be offended if I avoid using any connection to magic or guild membership except in privileged company.”

Rivanon replied, “Thanks for the compliment, it is appreciated. But for you to get a sponsor so quickly, that is rare. You must have made an impression on Magus Revan. Only Revan, it is said, everyone listens to, though it speaks rarely. But I don’t think wizards are required to run around and say, “I am a wizard.” I think, and you will need to confirm with Magus Elemix on this, that you only have to announce to a resident wizard and that can be very informal, or so I have heard. I am curious though, did the Wizard’s Guild let you keep your membership in the Entertainer’s Guild? Only associated guilds are usually allowed such as the Apothecaries or the Artificers Guilds. Now most bardic graduates are also in the Entertainers Guild, but I do not know about wizards.”

“That was never mentioned to me,” Emmeline said. “On the other hand, the Entertainer’s guild is generally informal anyway. And on our adventures going forward, we are unlikely to petition the guild for help with setting up performances or using the guild’s name to win an audience. In my experience, only the innkeepers and tavern owners of places in the biggest cities are required to allow only Entertainer’s Guild performers work there. Unless told otherwise, I see no reason why I should not continue as I have. Should I be instructed that I may no longer hold membership with the Entertainers, well, it would break my heart not to be able to perform. I would just have to think of something to make it work, or find a new outlet for creativity.”

“If they did not mention it, I doubt it is an issue. What they really do not want is wizard dukes, barons, and merchant princes.”

“Why not? In my experience, a wizard is hardly more dangerous than a determined man with a knife,” Emmeline said honestly. She smiled. “Or is it the determined men with knives who have decreed only they shall be leaders?”

“Hmm,” Rivanon thought, “I think it is an artifact of the final wars of the Old Empire. Sorcerer emperors and necromancer raising and leading huge undead armies. Things like that. That is why the Wizard’s Guild is so selective and careful. They are part of what Sidonius called ‘The Wise’, the three part braintrust of his plan: wizards, priests, and academics. My profession lies somewhere in-between wizards and academics. Anyway, they do have much to fear – Magus Peredhain for instance destroyed the pirate fleet of Grathor Bonewraith ten years ago off the Brentine coast in less than ten minutes.”

“The pirates likely had no wizards to counter, a weakness I observe that many rulers do not lack.” Emmeline turned and leaned against the railing and looked out across the sea as she considered. “I have noticed the Duke of Derien may not be a wizard, but he does command extremely powerful magic in the form of Magus Aliza. The result is the same — people with power rule, whether or not it is some “sorcerer king” a priest-king or an island king with a hundred wizards at his disposal.”

“But I think you are right. The difference between a sorcerer-king and a ruler who commands a wizard is that truly disastrous, rash decisions are not as easily made when there is more than a single mind commanding such.”

Emmeline hesitated, then turned her face back toward Rivanon. She looked suddenly concerned. “River, I hadn’t stopped to consider something. I’m such a slow-wit sometimes. But what of your father? Does he have a magic at his disposal? I know he has a positive relationship with the temple but I don’t recall seeing any wizards but Elemix’s former master anywhere in Uzec lands.”

“Until the mines were discovered, Uzec was just a backwater really, but it is lovely. I miss it and I miss my father. For fifteen years he’s ruled Uzec, and not once has he needed a wizard in-court. Visitors, yes, there have been a few. I remember one named Constantin, an illustionist who entertained myself and ma mére when I was very young. One of my earliest memories. I think he was a friend of my father’s from his days in the Legion some ten years before. Then there was Magus Deliah, a visitor that passed through on an adventure north. I’m sure there were others. But, I think there may be between 800 and 1000 wizards in total, maybe? And those that rise to the top, rarely leave their places of power. You are used to Thalassa, Em. Wizards are not a common occurrence save in the larger cities.”

“River, Rivanon, I get it. I too can be slow sometimes.” she laughed.

Emmeline joined her for the laugh. It felt good to be a little carefree for a change, but she soon let the moment fade. Growing serious, she said, “I never mentioned how things went with the Council. It seems I was able to show them I didn’t mean anyone harm, but I couldn’t win their trust. Not completely. One of them wanted me executed immediately, fearing my bloodline. Half of the rest seemed uncertain so they wanted me banished from Thalassa. They others were satisfied with the answers I gave them. Archmagus Revan voted last and it seemed to carry so much weight that not only did it break the tie, it seemed to reassure some of those that would have rather seen me banished. The head of the very college I chose to join was one of the ones who’d wanted me banished, in fact. But when he realized that Revan trusted me, he seemed comfortable with me.

“But as hard as it was to put my fate in the hands of strangers who couldn’t understand who and what I am, it’s pale compared to the anxiety I feel right now.” She looked quickly back out to sea to hide her face.

“Why Em? You beat the system. You took on their toughest task master and won his, her, its trust,” Rivanon replied, “in a short few months you have gone from an obscure, but talented minstrel, to a hero, a queen of love and beauty, a member of the Wizard’s Guild, a named member of an Academy expedition, found out you are part of something far greater than any of us on this ship could try to claim, and for my part melted my father’s stern heart with your honesty, talent, and kindness.” Something about her words raised Emmeline’s confidence and softened her anxiety somewhat.

“I never cared about beating anything. I only wanted to survive. What I fear most of all is what the Baron will think when I tell him I’m a witch. That’s what I really care about.”

Rivanon smiled and briefly let out a laugh, turning her head away to compose herself. Turning back with a smile she said, “of all the things you need to worry about, that, is the least of your troubles. My father already thinks you are special, and he is not stupid – far from it. He already suspects you are a follower of the old ways, a wild mage, or some other mystical tradition. Being a fey witch will make perfect sense to him and make you all the more interesting.” She continued, “de Cerise…I mean Em, you should relax about that.” Rivanon looked out to sea and said in a kind tone, “you really do care about him, don’t you? You hardly know each other, how do you know he is worth your adoration?”

Em was astonished. It took a moment to recover. She frowned. “I do care, very much. He… he was one of the very first to believe in me. The first to test me. The only man I have ever really let in.

“But no one seems to like that I’m a witch. Every person has warned me, threatened me, wanted to execute me, or banish me because I’m a witch. Only a very few people don’t hold it against me. You really think he won’t be upset?”

Rivanon kept smiling,“I do.” She thought carefully for a few seconds then continued, “Well, I should say it is possible he could be, but you are the first woman since ‘her‘ that he bothered to write me about, and the only woman he asked to help me. He saw something in you Em, and noted there is far more to you than appearances.” She turned to look at Emmeline directly, “Frankly Em, you do not lie that well. He knows you have abilities, magical ones. He told me so.” She looked back at sea, “as far as those others, well they don’t know what you offer yet, but they will – and someday they will say they knew you at the beginning and claim they never doubted you.”

Emmeline looked down. She was smiling, flattered by the compliment. “Thanks, River.” She was still nervous, but not nearly as anxious as she had been. “That helps.”

Rivanon/River just nodded with a smile. “You should have been a bard, not a wizard. We have more fun.”

Em laughed. “Is that a challenge, River? To see just which of us might have the most fun on this adventure? As challenges go, that just might be one of the more interesting ones I’ve ever heard.”

“Not at all. But your grandfather was a respected member of my profession – well the bard part anyway. While you followed in his footsteps to a degree, why not all the way? If you applied to either of the great schools, I have no doubt you would be accepted.”

“It’s not what sings to my soul,” Emmelin replied with a little shrug. “I’d have to turn away from Mara and I’d be doing what my mother and grandmother and aunt and all my forebears did; ignoring my heritage. I won’t do that. It would feel like a betrayal of not only Mara who is always so generous and kind to me, but also of myself.”

“Now you understand me. I have a duty. I must live up to my father, my mother, my grandfather, great-uncles, and more; then take over a barony, and perhaps someday the duchy itself if circumstances align. You have a duty to your bloodline, as I do to mine.” River noted with a touch of pride. “I will not yield to the will of another on this just because I am a woman – no husband will rule me or my father’s land.”

“I know,” Emmeline said with a smile. “And if it means anything, you will always have my support in that.”

“It is appreciated,” she replied. “On another subject though, and I know we discussed this, but it is sometimes difficult for me to call you Em. I’ll get used to it, and don’t feel you have to change how you address me in private, but I was raised with a certain formality of speech and very strict social rules on title, address, and status. For father it was important all the way up and down the spectrum. He would always say, ‘Yeoman Joffre’, never just ‘Joffre’ to our woodsman for instance. I always call him ‘father’, not pére or papa or the like. On Thalassa, that relaxed somewhat for me, but for instance, I was speaking to Magus Dungaroon, and I couldn’t call him ‘Elemix.’ It felt disrespectful, especially as I hardly know him. When I don the R. Celeste sobriquet it should be easier as I will in many ways be playing a part.”

“Long and short of it, are you comfortable with being called Em? I think you are probably less comfortable with de Cerisey, but please tell me if I am wrong,” she added.

“I am perfectly comfortable with Em, Emmeline, d’Cerisey, or Witch Emmeline. But as I recall, I did ask to be called Em. I would prefer that or just Emmeline anywhere but an official social appearance,” she said. “Since a ship is a small place where anything might be overheard and there is no true privacy, I was sticking with calling you River Celeste both to get used to the name as well as to help build it for you as a real, if alternate, name for you to use.”

“I think that would be good,” she replied.”Funny, River was my mother’s name for me. Rivé actually, in old Eterian.” She brought out a book, “Em, there is a story of a young prince Henri of Vannes who adventured with an old knight and three rogues in his youth. The old knight, Frealaf, was a portly Kalmarian who drank, wenched, and gambled all the time. He enjoyed life. The rogues were rash, fought amongst themselves, and were petty thieves much of the time but with hearts of gold. With them the young prince, disguised as the knight’s squire Hal – though all of his companions knew his true self – experienced the life of his father’s people and when it came time to rule, he could bring justice and connect to the common man, while still be noble and honorable. It is inspiring, fun, witty, and in a way parallel to this experience. The cast has changed, but the idea – at least for me – remains the same. Learn.”

“Precisely! That’s what we’ll be doing especially as we journey east from Uzec, although the wenching won’t be specifically required unless you want to,” Emmeline said without skipping a beat.

“Hah,” she said with a smile, “we’ll see. Anyway, you went all around the Periphery when you were a girl and before Mara come on the scene, you were doing so again with a musical troupe?”

“That’s right, and we threw in some musical plays for fun, depending on our audience,” Em confirmed.

“Whatever became of them?” she asked.

“When things got dangerous in the Calder Falls region, I asked them to go on ahead without me. We were to meet up again, but I needed to take care of threats to Uzec and they needed to move on,” Emmeline said. “I suspect they are nearing the end of their tour by now.”

“I have colleagues in many places in the Periphery. Should we run into them, I am not sure what the best approach is. Do I push the masquerade until it breaks, do I tell them in confidence, do we simply avoid them?

“If they recognize you, we take them aside and tell them the truth. People will keep a secret if they think they are part of the secret. If they don’t recognize you, then we leave it be,” Emmeline said confidently. “We don’t need to waste energy avoiding anyone. That just gets suspicious really fast.” In truth, Emmeline didn’t know until she said it, and then she knew it to be true. She considered that a moment, but her insight had come to her so naturally and felt so true she didn’t question it.

“I’m a reasonably good actor, so most of the time, we should be fine with that plan,” she said. “So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to change the subject a bit. I had a conversation with Magus Dungaroon recently. I think, and I’m not certain on this, but I think he is interested in me – at least at a base level.”

“You’re attractive and high born, so it’s only natural he might take interest in you. How do you feel about it?” asked Em.

She shrugged, “I’ve been rejected by and done rejection of several suitors. He is no different. I ask myself, what does he bring to the table and what role would he expect to play. Since I am journeying with him I will get to know him I suppose, but wizards notoriously rarely marry and it is considered bad form for them to seek political power or title. Again, anyone I marry must accept a supporting role at best.”

Emmeline regarded her friend thoughtfully. “You know, it might be you are thinking of this the wrong way. You are thinking of it in the same terms as an arranged marriage. What alliance might be made, the role a suitor would have to take, that sort of thing. But an arranged marriage appears to be precisely what you don’t want for fear of being unable to fulfill one of the very requirements causing you to consider marriage in this way.

“But what if you think about it in terms of love? Find someone you love, then marry that person. Love changes things. What’s so important to you now, will change — for the better — when you do find love. It may be that it’s okay to share power and leadership of a barony with someone you love because you can trust him completely. You become a team and share responsibility and duty without sacrificing anything. You’ll be stronger for it.”

“Love is just an excuse for not doing the right thing sometimes,” she replied. “Just because you love someone, does not make them equal to the task of leadership.” She laughed a little, “The thing is, if I marry for love your theory may prove true, but it is just a theory. A fairytale. In my experience, and in history, rarely has love conquered all. I know I sound cynical, and I shouldn’t be as I do not know for sure. One thing I do know is my great-uncle will never sanction a marriage to a commoner. In his mind, they must be high-born, or if Thalassan of the patrician class. The options for true love narrow significantly.”

“Who is your great uncle and why would his opinion matter more than yours and your father’s?” Emmeline asked curiously.

“You have met him. The Duke of Derrien.” she replied. “Who do you think sends out suitors? My father?”

Emmeline shrugged. “That you are related is not obvious to me. In any case, you should be wary of ‘history’ and ‘tales’ regarding love. If it is not dramatic, or did not have a great impact on nations, it is not recorded. Who tells the story of the countless love stories that happen all around us all the time? Sadly, audiences and readers want to hear only about tragedy and drama and occasionally comedy.

“If you never give love a chance, you might be okay. You might end up with a life like Ma Meré’s, if you are lucky, always seeking love but never being fulfilled because you walked away from the one true love of your life. You might have what you think you wanted, but you won’t be happy.”

“I have no problem giving love a chance, and I may love anyone I wish I suppose, but whom I marry is limited. Otherwise it would be a morganatic marriage, and any children of the union would not inherit.” Adding, River said, “Truth be told, I’ve had fascinations, but not true love – at least not like Magitrix Dungaroon and Doctor Dungaroon. They truly care for one another.”

Emmeling nodded. “That they do. As did my mother and father, from what I understand. As did my grandfather truly love my grandmother. “

“But not her to him?”

“I don’t know.” Em said with a shake of her head.

“Well, I think Magistrix Bella is wrong. I think despite her eccentricities, the Contessa is smitten with you. I feel we will have quite the welcome in Portreaux.” She replied with a smile, “And father is as well.”

“I look forward to both those things. And I really do like my adopted mother too. I think I understand her.”

“Really? And you call me insightful,” she said with a smile. “She has a reputation as you know. While today she is known as a bit of libertine, surrounding herself with sycophants, I’ve heard she was quite the adventurer – if the stories are true. Many men were smitten with her. The question is how to balance that love of live with one’s duty.”

Emmeline nodded. “She mentioned her love of adventure and that she didn’t want to give it up. But some of her destiny, was influenced, I think, by the curse.”

“Curse?” River asked, “You mean Sister Typhon’s curse? I’m not sure what you mean.”

“It’s something that Archmagus Revan revealed,” Emmeline explained. “It’s subtle enough that it’s hard to see, but it’s there — a misfortune brought about because someone truly hated an ancestor of mine and set it in motion. I have to go to a temple of Hate to remove it, but fortunately one exists in a city on our path to find the hidden Gates. I have the lead card that bears the likeness of one of my ancestors, one that looked very much like me and I’ll be able to use that to bring an end to the curse, I believe.

“It’s too late to help my mother, but there is a chance that the curse of Hate may be part of the reason my grandmother’s children judge her so harshly. I think that getting rid of the card will give Bella and Contessa Adela a chance make amends where there is none now.”

“Temple of Hate? I’m not that very religious, but that sounds ominous. What do you know about it?” she asked.

“Not a lot, actually. I know there used to be a temple for that in Thalassa. I know that people can let go of personal pain and anger by making a likeness of the target and then inscribing prayers to Hate on it. Then they take it to the temple to release that angst. The only way to rid myself of this curse is to take the lead card I have and bring it to the temple of Hate.” She paused and then said, “If you want to see it I could get it for you.”

“Sounds interesting, but how can a curse pass through a bloodline like that? I mean, would it not be a very, very powerful curse, not just an everyday expression of resentment?” replied River.

“I don’t really know. I have only blind guesses. On the other hand it seems like it works very subtly. And for all I know the curse has already run out of whatever powers it. Still, my mother died in childbirth and my grandmother’s children hate her. I have an ancient lead card with an image so like me it’s stunning and it’s covered with curses. I figure it can’t hurt to take it to a temple of Hate, especially since we will be passing through a city that has one.”

“Still sounds ominous. Can I see the card?” she asked.

“Of course.” Emmeline went to her cabin and retrieved the card then returned and showed it to Rivanon.

River very carefully cradled the card, looking at it, “Unbelievable. The accuracy of the work – I mean it is not quite you – but it is extremely well done. It is also quite old, several hundred years I would guess, but I’m not expert. How did you come by this?”

“Found it. Near Calder Falls,” Emmeline replied. “Crazy, huh?”

River looked puzzled, “Yeah. I mean there are no ‘temples of Hate’ – why do I feel uneasy saying that? Well, there are no temples of that kind in Uzec, at least as far as I know. Humans have only been in the lower valley for a few hundred years, and the upper valley is still fairly wild with only recent settlement started by my father’s recent predecessors. How it got there is truly a mystery.”

Rivanon looked really, really pensive. Like she was carefully putting thoughts together, her forefinger moving in the air as is she was doing arithmetic. Pausing she looked at back, “Em, it is a near impossibility that this card would be found by you, unless it was meant to be found.”

“Fate’s a funny thing,” Em said simply. “All I know is I have it, it’s a curse on my family line, and I know where to go to get it removed.”

“Em, I don’t believe in fate. This…this must be a trap. Bait to get you to this ‘Hate’ cult.” River said with a sense of worry. 

“Archmagus Revan put me on to it. Before that it was just some trinket to me. Are you telling me that Revan knowingly and purposely has set me up?”

“Em, I am not saying that – though who knows what is going on behind that mask,” she replied. “just odd that you just found it off Calder Falls, near Uzec. Of all the places in the world you could have gone, that probably was not…” She paused mid sentence, “…it just seems strange, that’s all.”

“It’s not so strange to me. It simply means that an enemy of one of my ancestors put this in a temple of Hate near Calder Falls many centuries ago. When the group of us found it I kept it because of the resemblance to me.”

“That’s what I’m trying to say. My father may know more, or one of the wise, but most all the ruins up there are dwarven. Some repurposing by goblins or the Eterians after the dwarven fall, but no cities or towns to speak of for hundreds of years until the Uzec colony was founding. I could be wrong, but I think it would have had to have been carried there. Maybe by the Eterians themselves. Four entire legions were said to have been destroyed by the dwarves at that battle. It is said that the battle site still reveals bones, rusted weapons, and old armor even today. It was a killing field.” she said with a touch of sadness.

Emmeline noted Rivanon’s emotion, but wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. She decided to let it go for now. “According your research, I’m descended from one of the 100 Founding Families. It might make some sense that there were enemies in the Eterian Empire that might have hated them enough to do something like this. And then these enemies may have traveled this direction only to fall to the dwarves who made a stand here. But I’m afraid we’ll never really know. All I understand for certain is that it’s probably a good idea to unmake this curse — if it still has any sway at all. If I am going to be part of Uzec, then I don’t want anything so foul touching me or anyone around me.”

“I understand that.” River carefully handed the card back to Emmeline. “I’ll help. As a descendant of the Hundred and earlier Eterian colonists, hearing such things happened to your ancestors is sad. It should be righted.”

Em smiled, “Thanks. Just another pitstop on our grand adventure!”

River smiled and the two of them watched the sun set.

***

A couple days later as the ship was a day out from Breven, Emmeline came back to the cabin and saw River carefully packing her old identity away while simultaneously laying out her masquerade. Oddly River carried few of her belongings with her; having lived on Thalassa for nearly a decade, little material goods did she have to show for it. Several books and scrolls, a watch, a few musical instruments including a new small viol not unlike Emmeline’s antique, a fife, a flute, and a vihuela (guitar family), which Emmeline had seen once in Caradec with her grandfather, but never played. She was placing several small items in a curio box as River heard Emmeline enter. 

“Good afternoon,” she said without much of a Thalassan accent, but one that seemed foreign and mysterious that Emmeline couldn’t place but had heard before.

Emmeline smiled and said, “Nice. I think your disguise is complete.” With a nod toward River’s meager belongings, she said, “Did you send the rest of your things ahead to Uzec?”

Staying in character, River replied, “Some of them, yes. The rest I sold at auction while you were away. I won’t need most of that stuff anymore. Those things that were useful I sent ahead a couple weeks ago. Those things that mean something so me, I’ve kept. But mostly I have packed Lady d’Uzec into the bottom of that trunk and replaced her with a fiction.” She paused a bit, again staying in character, “I’ve met Savonians from time to time, while few are blonde, those that are tend toward the extremes. Add in Brentine blood and voila…” she flipped on a long platinum wig. “With a judicious use of this potion, Magitrix Dungaroon sold me, and this hair pin that came with it, this disguise should be long-lasting and fairly foolproof save to detailed inspection. It was… a large investment, but hopefully worth it.”

“Though,” with a touch of melancholy, “I will miss being me,” she added.

“Don’t worry you’ll have lots of opportunity to be yourself, at least for the next few weeks.

“Hey I remembered where we found that little lead card,” Em continued. “A goblin had it.”

“A goblin? Up near Calder Falls? It would have had to have been one of the ones that attacked the villages. You know, if any were still alive, or if you could track from what tribe they were recruited from, you might be able to find out where they had been. Which might reveal how the creature got it in the first place.” she replied with a touch of enthusiasm.

“Maybe but what might that gain us?” Emmeline asked.

“Maybe nothing at all. But I like following clues. Who knows what they may lead to,” she said with a smile. “Yet if Archmagus Revan said one could just get the curse removed by visiting a Temple of, well that one god, then of course that is more important. Though it does answer the ‘what’ well, but leaves out the ‘why’.”

Em thought for a moment. “Well, our adventure doesn’t have to end with our journey to find the secret door or gateway, River. I could try to remove the curse but continue to investigate — or if there is time we could even poke around before heading east.”

Returning to her native accent, she answered, “Certainly. While we are there, in and around Uzec, I’d like to be myself, Rivanon. Once we are back on the road, River will re-emerge.”

Emmeline nodded, “I thought you might like to do that. At Portreaux, as well.”

“I’m split there. We could just wait to introduce River Celeste shortly after Portreaux, after meeting with the Contessa. This would make more sense I think. We could meet an inn perhaps on the far side?”

“I think that should work,” Emmeline agreed.

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