They spent several hours aboard the airship discussing the King's plans for an airship defense and it became clear to Aurei that Westmark would play an important part of those plans. But she couldn't help but still feel some strong conflict between Eleazar and herself. It was late into the night and the snow continued to fall relentlessly as Aurei worked to finish cleaning up the Muddy Boot following a rather spirited evening. As she worked, Zeatt sat near the fire, perfectly comfortable in the darkness of the tavern as she went over a list of things she had to do the following morning for her part as the officiating Cleric at the organizational ceremony of the Knights of Northmarch.
"I've never participated in any knightly order's ceremony." She told her niece as Aurei swept the floor.
Aurei just snorted at mention of the order, causing her aunt to look up.
"Are you still upset, child?"
"No, I'm downright mad, to be honest."
"It just doesn't seem right, Aunt Zeatt! Alis and I fought right along side Laz and Aeric and held our own in battle. I think we've earned the right to join their stupid order!"
Zeatt chuckled and motioned for Aurei to sit with her, and she quickly took a seat.
"Child, that is the nature of men; they think they are protecting women by keeping them away from anything dangerous."
"Well, it sure is frustrating!"
"It's like that all over the world. Back in the Underdark cities of the Drow, it was completely reversed. The women dominated the men."
"That doesn't sound so bad to me right now."
"Aurei, it is not natural for men to be the weaker sex. Among our race, it led to many Drow males with very strong, pent-up aggression and anger which they would unleash in other harmful ways. Many of them became very sadistic and brutal."
"They can be rather brutal when they are dominant!"
"Not like they were in the Underdark. There they were more brow-beaten then women are on the surface world. However, this appears to be changing, slowly, due to the power of the Wizards' academies replacing the priestesses as figures of authority. Probably 90% of Drow wizards are males. Your father was one."
"My father…", Aurei sighed, "Aunt Zeatt, what was he like? My father, I mean."
Zeatt leaned back in her chair, "His name was Chal; he was a young up-and-coming wizard in Hor'olorbb, the second oldest son of Grand Mage of Hor'olorbb. His older brother Timas was the father of my daughter, Sophia. Both brothers were very much alike; very smart, ambitious, but very loyal to Ar'Rilla and Matron Thaia. They both were very excited at being selected as the fathers of two of Thaia's granddaughters."
"What happened to them?"
"Well, I don't know about Chal, but Timas was killed by about six Elven arrows. Chal cast a darkness spell over your mother, Tholmi and me which enabled us to make it to the Elven coaches, though your mother was hit by an arrow as we boarded the coach. The last I saw of your father, he and two of our guards were running toward the Elven sinkhole with an arrow sticking out of his back. I'm very certain he was killed by the Faesidhe Elves. I have never really thought about it, but I guess he saved our lives with that darkness spell."
Aurei sat there, uncertain whether to feel sadness for the father she had never known, but all that would come to her mind was the image of Gamel Bugley and the thought of him brought tears to her eyes.
"I miss Duke Bugley." She told her aunt. "You would have really liked him, and I suspect he would have liked you too."
"I'm sure he was wonderful man; I can see how well he raised you."
"I wish Eleazar was more like him. He's so pig-headed."
"He's a young Paladin. They usually are stubborn."
"He makes me so mad, Aunt Zeatt, that I could just smack him. I hate the man."
Zeatt grinned, "No you don't, child."
Aurei buried her chin in her hands with a sigh, "No, I don't. I like him… as a friend, of course."
"Oh, of course!"
"No, I'm serious, Aunt Zeatt. He's just the first close male friend I've ever had, that's all. I'm not interested in him. Really, I'm not."
Zeatt just arched her eyebrows and smiled.
"Why don't you believe me? He's too stubborn for me to be interested in him! I'd probably chop him up with a meat cleaver in a week's time if he was my boyfriend!"
Zeatt raised her hands to calm the girl down, who seemed to be almost hysterically trying to defend her 'just friends' status with the young knight.
"Calm down, child, I wasn't insinuating anything."
"Good, because it's not like that at all! He's just a guy that is close to my age that I really like being around. When we aren't arguing, that is. He's very fun to be around, though it is really weird because we haven't really spent a lot of time together, but I have found I crave being with him when I haven't seen him in a while. Even after he's acted like an idiot. I've never had a friend like that! He brings out something in me… I don't know what it is, but I feel so… alive… when we're together. But I think I scare him to death with my eagerness to be around him. He probably thinks I'm interested in him. That is so silly! I just want him as my friend, that's all. Well, I told him I have feelings for him, but I'm not really sure exactly how I feel and I just go back and forth between thinking I do like him and then just wanting him to be a friend. After how he acted today, I'm favoring just friendship. He's easy to talk to, I usually don't feel so comfortable around men, but he's different, somehow. I know it sounds crazy, Aunt Zeatt, but I feel like he is supposed to be my friend. My best friend. I mean, Alis is my best friend too, but Laz is supposed to be my closest friend. It's crazy, really; it's almost magical, how strangely close I feel to him. I think he feels it too. Sometimes I almost feel like I know what he's thinking."
Aurei breathlessly continued expounding the virtues of the half-Drow, her red eyes glowing fiery red the way that those of the dark Elven race did when they felt something passionately. From her excited banter, nervous gestures, flush face and shining eyes, the Drow matron was convinced of what Queen Eioldth had claimed about her niece; she was deeply in love.
Zeatt was concerned, for she had heard of the ancient surface Elf legends of 'Aleiryid' which supposedly was the joining of a male and female Elf until they shared such an empathy that they were bound deeply for life. The legends tell of these 'life-mates' having a bond so strong that when one of the pair died, the other one soon followed. Of course the Drow had nothing even remotely like that, except Ssinssrigg-Chath, but none of her family had ever gone through that. Zeatt began to wonder if her niece was experiencing the legendary Aleiryid. Then she dismissed it; it was just a girl's first crush, portrayed as the greatest love she could ever feel, as most young human girls also experienced, only to be heartbroken later when reality finds them. What concerned her most was whether the Drow/Elf Knight felt the same way for her.
Zeatt listened to Aurei's excitement over Eleazar until the girl had finally expressed her feelings to her satisfaction. Aurei sat back in the chair, fanning herself with her hands, "Whew! It sure is hot in here."
"Well, you were rather animated." The Drow matron closed her eyes and sighed.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm tired, child, and I still am battling the addiction to Dart'loxichu."
"Really? I thought you were about over it."
Zeatt smiled, glad that the considerable effort she had put into trying to appear alright to her niece over the past several days had worked. But that had been aided by spells to lessen her suffering and it seemed to her that each day that the spells she cast on herself did not work as well, nor as long as the day before. The addiction was winning.
"It's a struggle, child." Zeatt answered, looking down at her trembling hands.
"Are you sure you want to go through with it? You have your duplicating box, so you could smoke if you need to, I won't mind."
Zeatt felt her heart race with the thought of finally indulging. A cold sweat broke out on her forehead, "I need to… resist."
"Aunt Zeatt, I'm afraid it might be too much for you."
The Drow matron nodded, "It is, child. But it is not too much for Yesh."
"Do you think he minds if you smoke the Dart'loxinchu?"
Zeatt shrugged, "I don't really know, Aurei. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I have no clear indication from him if he cares or not. But I do know that my devotion should be first and foremost to him, and my addiction to Dart'loxinchu hinders that… I think… so I think I should fight to be free of my addiction."
"But if the drug is not physically harmful to you…"
"It is addictive to me, Aurei, and more over, the effects of the smoke on those around me can be addictive to them as well. When I was back in Aeropolis, I would only smoke in private chambers or around those who were addicted, like Sophia."
"You said that St. Kinnis allowed you to smoke during your meetings with him."
"Yes, but I seldom did, as I knew that the smoke would have given him a headache, as it does any adult male."
"So how often did you have to smoke?"
"About once an hour, roughly. It made it very, very difficult during long meetings. I have always felt rather shameful of my addiction, Aurei. It is, as Yesh said, my 'Blemish of the flesh'. As such, I feel I need to make a stronger effort to defeat it, trusting in Yesh to enable me to do that."
"Well, okay, but I want you to know that nobody here will condemn you for it. We all have our blemishes, Aunt Zeatt. If you need the Dart'loxinchu, there are plenty unused rooms in the lower levels of the Ducal Keep - or even here at the Muddy Boot, if you are fearful of exposing anyone to it. Don't hesitate to feel free to use them if the need gets too much. I don't want this to consume you, Aunt Zeatt; I've only become acquainted with you and it is so wonderful to have an aunt that is much like me. I love you, Aunt Zeatt."
Zeatt completely forgot her battle with the addiction for a moment upon hearing the words of affection. They thrilled her heart, for they were still wonderful to hear, even after 73 years out of the evil of the Underdark, where such sentiments were never expressed or felt.
"I love you too, child, I am so thankful I have got to meet you and be a part of your life."
The Drow lady hugged her niece and thanked Yesh for the relationship. She was so unlike Sophia; warm, caring and unafraid of showing and receiving affection. How she wished her daughter could be more like her cousin.