In light of the recent announcement, I've started writing a sort of Baldur's Gate retrospective/ Baldur's Gate to Siege of Dragonspear bridge story, detailing events in Baldur's Gate immediately after the death of Sarevok. Written largely from the perspective of the reluctant Fist officer in charge of the Hero of Candlekeep's legal defence. I'd love any feedback - I'm hoping to continue this pretty regularly as it's keeping me sane during the last month of my thesis.
'Look, that's not how it was.'
Officer Caroline rolled her eyes and not for the first time that day. She chewed the nib of her quill with some irritation, before leaning in close.
'Alright, Alisaunder. Why don't you tell me exactly how you think it was – right from the top.'
The young man practically pouted. Caroline would have laughed were circumstances other than they were. It was hard to believe sometimes that this callow boy was the one who had set the Gate alight. But he was, and here they were. Here they were.
'I have to tell you, it's not looking good. Not looking good at all.'
'You're enjoying this. The Fist have finally gotten their man.'
'For pity's sake, child!' Caroline heard her voice rising, and sought vainly for calm. 'The Fist recalled me from Anchorome - that's how concerned they were that you get a neutral counsel.'
'Tell that to my prosecutor.' Alisaunder said, gazing out of the window onto the skyscape of Baldur's Gate.
'Commander Avery is a fine officer, and as neutral as I in this, if not more so.'
'Because he's champing at the bit to join Corwyn in the north. Word does reach me in this cell. You must be eager to clean this mess up. How many days before conviction do you think?'
Caroline felt she was almost fit to chew rocks. It must have shown in her expression, as Constable Wick immediately refilled her jug of water. 'You are impossible.'
He smirked. With the sunset flooding through the barred window, splitting the light as though through stained glass, Alisaunder's eyes shone. 'There. That's more like it. Now, as I say it is not looking good. Several of your former companions will testify against you. I can't prevent that.'
Alisaunder's brief good humour immediately washed away. 'Garrick.'
'Amongst others, yes. Two Grand Dukes dead - '
'I saved Belt and Liia!'
'You did. But Eltan died in your arms, and the people you claim to be the murderers of Duke Silvershield are also dead. By your hand.'
'Then call up Skie. She was there.'
Caroline sighed. 'We've been over this. Lady Silvershield continues to refuse to involve herself in the trial, and her position means we can't compel her to. I am working on it, Alisaunder, believe you me. But for the moment she is intransigent. There's also the business with the Shadow Thieves – not to mention the thieves in our own city - '
'Again. Call Imoen.'
'The material is still pertinent to your case. Especially as you're being tried separately. Care to enlighten me on why she requested that, by the by?'
'I have no more idea than you, officer.'
Caroline stared at him a long moment before she continued.
'Not to mention the identities of some of your allies, your involvement with the Zhentarim, the flooding of the Cloakwood mine, the massacres at Candlekeep and the Iron Throne, and the fact that most people have conflated you and Anchev. That business with Larz was not politic, Alisaunder.'
Alisaunder smiled that infuriating smile. Had she been ten years younger, she might even have found it charming, as opposed to the red flag to any decent jury she now knew it to be. 'You have to admit, that was funny.'
'I worked my posterior off, which we'll both admit is considerable, to get you off being charged with contempt off court. Three days wasted, Alisaunder, and as you so astutely noted, we don't have that much time. Now, as the evidence is disputed and disputable, and every character witness I could call in your favour can easily be countered by a witness against you -' She paused for breath and a sip of water. There was the jangle of crockery as Wick went to refill the jug again. 'We're going to have to try something novel.'
'Oh?' Alisaunder said, sounding intrigued despite himself. 'And what is that?'
'We're going to tell the truth.'
Chapter One: Strategies of Distinction
'We have to start from the beginning.'
'I don't remember that. You know that.'
Caroline counted quietly to ten. 'No, I am very aware of that. You'll find very few people who remember anything before their fifth summer. I meant Candlekeep. You know that.'
'Don't you have witnesses who can fill in those blanks for you?' He looked decidedly bored.
'Wick, the brandy if you'd be so good.' The familiar clink of glasses, the pouring of an amber liquid, dark and hazy as a late summer's eve. Alisaunder's eyes widened. 'That's Firewine!'
Caroline smiled to herself. First blood. 'Indeed. It's getting late, and I thought I'd be thirsty. As it happens, I'm rather partial to the stuff myself.'
'To happy coincidences.' The boy raised his glass to hers. She acknowledged the gesture, before swilling down half the glass. Alisaunder winced, evidently thinking it a waste. Let him.
'Now, as I'm sure you're aware, having grown up there, Candlekeep is outside of the jurisdiction of the Fist, attended to by its own Watchers – who, I must say, do not speak well of you. As such, any witnesses I can procure from your home come entirely of their own volition. Tethtoril has agreed, thus far, but anything he says is likely to be discounted by Ulraunt's testimony.'
'Dreppin? He'd vouch for me.' Alisaunder said, sipping the brandy after swirling it around his glass for an excessive period.
'There's been no sign of Dreppin, or Phyldia for that matter, since the attack. I'm sorry, Alisaunder, I suspect they're not returning.'
Alisaunder stared at her for an uncomfortably long moment. 'Does this mean you believe me? About the doppelgangers? If so – that would explain the Iron Throne, which - '
Caroline raised a hand. 'Everything I've seen of you, Alisaunder, makes me very much doubt you'd murder your childhood friends in cold blood. It does not follow that the rest of your story is true – and you must convince the court of both of these things.'
'Alright,' he said at last, 'Alright. What do you want to know?'
Caroline motioned for Wick to begin transcribing. She finished the brandy, glazing her throat with false confidence as he prepared his parchment.
'Context. I want you to situate yourself in Candlekeep for me.'
Caroline paused, and fished about for the word. 'Tell me how you fitted in. How Candlekeep made you – and you changed it.'
'Alright. Are you ready?' This was directed to Constable Wick, who nodded, not bothering to look up from his page.
Testimony of Alisaunder of Candlekeep, the Accused – in interview with Officer Caroline Rose, transcribed by Constable Jonathan Wick.
'I never quite fit in, if I'm being completely honest. You might call it restless. Might call it reckless. Imoen and I [Imoen – Alisaunder's foster-sister, also under investigation] got up to all kinds of mayhem.'
'Could you give me specifics?' Officer Rose.
'Let's see. There was this one time, we were meant to be taking lessons in hand – transcription, reading old scripts, that kind of thing. Well – this was under Master Kostas – who must have been ninety summers, if not longer. Old, you know. Practically decrepit. So, Immy and I spent a month, with the help of a couple of the novices, making a fake text. Copied the hand, wrote the content ourselves, had it bound and dusted all nice. Well, when for our first lesson of the new season Master Kostas began to read – we damn near died, I don't mind telling you - ' Alisaunder.
'So you were a disruptive element. Leading the otherwise quiet, contemplative novices astray.' Officer Rose.
'That's not what I said.' Alisaunder.
'I know. It's what the court will hear though, all the same. How was your relationship with the other novitiates?'
'I found them a bit dull, to be honest. I got on better with the kitchen staff, the visitors, the stablehands, the guards – especially as I trained with many of them. You'd have to ask Imoen about the novices – she had a lot more to do with the cloister than I.' Alisaunder.
'I shall, never fear. Could you talk about your training?' Office Rose.
'I grew faster than the other boys my age. I suppose Gorion made sure I ate well, and I was very active – always out on the cliffs, or tearing about the gardens. Tethtoril thought it might be best to direct my – excessive energies – somewhere more productive. So I was taught to fight – hone the body, hone the mind was the idea behind that one, I'd guess. I enjoyed it – mastered every weapon they threw at me, from glaive to flail, pitchfork to claymore. I think a few more years, and I'd have bested the Gatekeeper himself. Now, there's a fellow with no sense of humour – especially when it comes to tampering with his food - ' Alisaunder.
'Thank you, Alisaunder. So, you were a restless child whose exceptional energies – and athleticism - were channelled into martial endeavours, at which you excelled, to the point you were only just about contained.' Officer Rose.
'I suppose. If you were being particularly clinical about it all.' Alisaunder.
'I must. Let's change tack for a moment. What was Candlekeep to you?' Officer Rose.
'Home. Look, I know I might have sounded contemptuous earlier. I was restless, yes, I loved stories of the outside world – legends and fables and so on. But I was happy. Sitting on the ramparts, legs swinging over the horizon, as the sunset lapped at the waves below the cliffs, and the whole world deep pink fading to violet, as the stars came out one by one mirrored by the lanterns in the towers. Every window a reflection of the setting sun. The chanting coming from the garden, blending with the scent of the summer lavender, the herb garden's scents drifting out to be met by the salt of the sea, the call of the gulls at dawn and the nightingale at dusk. Laughter amidst the solemn adults, the sounds of everyone engaged in the same project – over different arenas whether the training yard or the scriptorium. The preservation of knowledge – fostering peace. Everyone knew each other – no-one was other than they were to themselves.' Alisaunder.
'Thank you, Alisaunder. Though we now know that last to be sadly untrue. I think we'll conclude for the night. ' Officer Rose.
'You can stop there, Wick.' The quill was set down, the page blown upon to dry the ink. The candle was snuffed – the only light that of the stars, pooling into the turreted chamber. Caroline wondered if this was what the Candlekeep of Alisaunder's memory was like.
She turned back to him. 'Keep the glass. I'll see you in the morning.' But he wasn't listening. The child of Candlekeep was gazing out of the open window, out onto night.
Leaving the compound into the cool night, a bitter wind blowing in off the harbour, Caroline shivered. She stopped in at the Blade and Stars for a flask of cocoa. It was the only place in the Gate that stocked it, and she'd grown partial in Anchorome. She had few vices, carefully cultivated, and she had more to do before she could turn in beneath the blankets like decent folk.
'Do they really drink this filth out west?' Bernard's usual banter, as he filled her flask to the full with his most lucrative new import.
'And worse. This is to wash out the taste of all the rest.' She sealed the flask, placing it safely beneath her cloak, feeling the warmth eke out to fill her. Hot inside and out, what more could one ask for from a drink?
'Gods above. How many years you think that'll take?' Caroline ignored the tell-tale smudge of chocolate on the barkeep's luxurious moustache. 'I don't know, Bernard. How long do you think you'll keep this wreck open?'
Bernard laughed, and peered with exaggerated curiosity about his bar, its low-ceilings packed to the smoky rafters with men peeled from a hard day at the dock. 'I don't know, Rose.' He said, conspiratorially. 'How long were you planning on stopping by?'
The memory of good humour, and the flask burning at her hip, Caroline walked on towards the Elfsong and a confrontation possibly more difficult than Alisaunder himself. A few more paces from the Blade and Stars, she caved and downed the contents of the flask in one.
'Is this not prejudicing the witnesses? I had assumed there were laws against that, although in fairness, I had also assumed that there were laws against holding innocent people against their will.' The half-elf glared at Caroline for a long moment. Caroline was finding that she was rather good at that.
'I am going to these lengths – including late night interviews, which I know for a fact that I want to be here about as much as you do – precisely because I want to see the law properly carried out, Jaheira.'
Jaheira snorted. She also did that a lot, Caroline was learning. 'I see. Then why don't we do this tomorrow. I find myself much more agreeable after a good night's sleep.'
Caroline highly doubted that was true. 'I'm afraid I will be with Alisaunder from first light tomorrow. I want a fresh perspective before then.'
'I'm sure he will be delighted for the company. And for such a length of time! Your generosity knows no bounds, officer.'
Caroline looked to the husband, the slightly-built Khalid for help but none was forthcoming. She stared into the candle thoughtfully placed between her and the couple, highlighting the pools of shadow spreading about the oaken booth. 'I'm trying to build a case for Alisaunder's innocence. Of the crimes he's been charged with at least - '
She raised a hand to forestall Jaheira's imminent objection. 'You know him better than most – better than me, certainly. Enough that we both know that we are not talking about an innocent soul here.'
'You are turned confessor now? Well, I must say I'm relieved. I never thought Viconia much of a shepherd for Alisaunder's soul. Don't you agree, my love?'
'Of course. In fact, I remember you saying as much, my dear.' Khalid smiled. 'I do listen sometimes. We agreed a nice period of incarceration and a continual monitor was what Alisaunder really needed.' Khalid reflected his wife's gaze back at Caroline. This was infuriating.
'This is a complicated affair that I'm trying to piece together. Beyond complicated. Now, I could sit back and prepare my questions and get to sleep at a reasonable hour and wait for the trial to roll on. And when it does, you will all be crushed under it. When every one of you speaking for Alisaunder tells a different story – when every contradiction, hidden piece of information, secrets – however close you think you've guarded them, everything exposed to the miserable light of the court to pour over, bereft of context, corroboration, commentary – the case will be over before the prosecution has even had to call anyone to the bench.' Caroline took a deep breath. 'He faces execution.' She watched them both as that sank in. Like a stone, if she was any judge.
Jaheira tapped her fingers on the plank-wood, until Khalid at last enclosed her hands in his own.
'We saved this city.' She said at last. 'He saved this city.'
'And as a representative of this city,' Caroline shot back, 'Let me save him.'
It was Khalid who spoke first. 'Perhaps if you explained your strategy to us - we are Harpers, investigations are something we have some experience with -'
'Our role as Harpers is only going to complicate things, isn't it?' Jaheira said.
'Almost certainly. You're not looked on favourably on the Sword Coast. After Tethyr - '
'Stick to the case, officer. I am not in the mood to justify my organisation to you, right now.'
Caroline swallowed. Careful, she thought, you're getting somewhere. 'Understood. We will have to tackle the Harper issue at some point.'
Jaheira looked on the verge of replying, but glanced at Khalid first, and then simply nodded.
'I'm gathering as much as I can from the companions of Alisaunder as I can. I have agents in Nashkel, Beregost, Candlekeep, Berdusk gathering more information from witnesses there. I'll try and get access to the prosecution's witnesses, but I can't promise anything there. I want everyone singing from the same hymn-sheet, as it were. But, frankly, we could have the most watertight story imaginable and still be sunk by the court of public opinion. For a variety of reasons, Alisaunder has become conflated with Sarevok. You say he saved the city – the city disagrees. They imagine the whole business a conflict between demon-blooded murderers, and the city the victim. Now, we know that to be untrue but we have to prove it. We need more than evidence, we need narrative. You asked me my strategy? Simple. Distinction.'
When Constable Wick arrived at his desk in the Compound bright and early the next morning, he found waiting for him at the top of his tray a fresh piece of parchment. Bleary-eyed he lifted it, holding it up the dawning light. The ink was so fresh he could still smell its murky, acrid scent. He read: 'Witness Statement: Jaheira and Khalid, Harpers and guardians of Alisaunder.' He smiled to himself, sat down, and immediately set to work writing Caroline's notes up into a full statement.
Jaheira and Khalid's statement – Taken by Officer Rose
J: 'We were worried, naturally. The child was late.
K: It was so out of character for Gorion.
J: Precisely. So I told Khalid to wait inside in case Gorion knew of some hidden way into the inn. Stranger things have happened. I stepped outside to blood. The steps, pooling with it. I'd never known a man to have so much blood in him, but Alisaunder had found a way. I saw Alisaunder, eyes bright – that curious gold colour the towncriers have made so much of – leather tunic drenched in drying blood. His blade – or what was left of it - embedded in the poor bastard's chest. The iron crisis, like Alisaunder, had struck.
K: Stricken, my dear.
J: He certainly was. Not the most auspicious of meetings, you might think, but the boy thrust a note into my hands – also covered with blood, as now were my hands. There was a bounty on Alisaunder. I assumed that was the identity of the gore-spattered youth in front of me, and the worst for poor Gorion. Then I saw the girl – curiously, for one so sheltered, you might have thought her distressed by the scene, but no, in fact, I think [the rest redacted, for fear of prejudicing the trial of Imoen of Candlekeep].
K: We brought them drinks, hot food, and listened. It made grim listening. No-one wants to think of their friends dying in the dirt.
J: We all wanted revenge. Of course. But we had little and less to go on. We were already en route to Nashkel. I wish I could say Alisaunder had listened to either reason or myself, but truth be told he was barely present. Took his leave of us and a bath, and next we knew he was sharing a bottle of wine with a pretty singer.
K: We were grieving, exhausted with it. It was like torture – that grim wearying knowledge that tomorrow you'll feel the same. We arranged a bed for Imoen in our room, and retired.
J: In retrospect, a mistake. But Alisaunder's ill fated dalliance is for him to speak of, not I. Though, once he has, please feel free to return and receive my opinion. So you see, my first impression of Alisaunder was of damage. A grief that struck like lightning, and a sword arm of about the same power. Tempestuous and irresponsible. I give you this not to damn him but to contextualise what came next. The following morning, we found him up apparently hours before us, in last night-s clothes, smelling of sour wine, sweat, and sex, and he smiled at us as we sat down for cold eggs and famished bacon, and he said that we were going to Nashkel.
K: He'd spent the night working through every possible course of action, and settled on south.
J: I doubt out of altruism. I think like recognised like that terrible night. I think, somehow, Alisaunder knew that the chaos choking our coast in brittle iron was the doing of Gorion's killer. And he knew too that he could end him, perhaps the only one who could. There's your distinction, Officer. Destroyer and saviour. Same source. Same make-up. But there was a choice, and they made the difference.
Constable Wick handed the full statement to Caroline, as she drained the dregs of her iron stein, feeling the coffee bean stimulate her into some semblance of wakefulness. Wick raised an eyebrow. 'It's certainly a start,' he said, 'But Alisaunder doesn't come out of it too well.'
Caroline took the paper and filed it in her desk, the first of many. 'No, but I suspect that by the end of this, very few will.'