Ithelien Summersong by artist Loreto Diaz
Ithelien Lorathiel Amaleora Dawnstrider
Venture Captain of the Everwind Exchange
The Everwind Exchange
Allathor Dawnstrider (father)
Ithelien Summersong (born Ithelien Lorathiel Amaleora Dawnstrider, in December the 20th the year 503 K.C.) is a Ren’dorei entrepreneur, art collector, natural philosopher, stock trader, alchemist, and criminal, currently the head and main stockholder of The Everwind Exchange, where she performs as its Venture Captain. Born as an aristocrat of a prestigious branch of the Dawnstrider lineage and later risen to the rank of countess upon her marriage to Count Tharanos of Ravenheart, she was stripped of her station, fortune, and reputation when she was ousted for her husband’s murder.
Known in some circles as the “Concierge of Crime”, Ithelien had to reinvent herself multiple times through the tumultuous life that followed, ultimately becoming a successful businesswoman, smuggler, and arms dealer after taking over the network once belonging to the Wastewander slaver and bandit lord Shaheed El-Zafar.
Though a ruthless businesswoman and alarmingly willing to break the law when it comes to getting what she wants, Ithelien has one redeeming feature: her deep-seated, almost fanatical hatred of slavery, the fighting of which her fortune and companies are ultimately geared towards.
Personality and Beliefs
Gifted with a remarkably sharp mind for numbers, a peculiar love for finances, and an almost neurotic capacity -some would say necessity- for running things, Ithelien was naturally inclined to involve herself in businesses. Though not quite heartless, she is a practical, sometimes too practical, woman, and is willing to get her hands bloodied if she feels herself, her interests, or her associates threatened. She is principled and demandingly loyal, but her threshold for what is acceptable might seem rather low for other people, and thus actively participates in all manners of illicit endeavours. While she prefers bossing around others to do it, she has an appreciable number of murders to her name; she would like to be able to say they were all necessary murders, but the truth is quite a bit less flattering.
Attractive and unapologetically enticing, Ithelien can be aggressively sensual to get what she needs, using her gifts to get into people’s heads and find what makes them tick. By contrast, however, her love-life is devastatingly empty, true affection being something she struggles to both give and accept. As a result, while she is surrounded by throngs of associates, secretaries, and collaborators, she leads a very lonely, sometimes depressing existence. While she maintains an outer layer of strength and ruthlessness, the deep regret she feels for the life she has woven for herself haunts her; never having found true love, not being able to be a mother, and knowing the pain she has inflicted in other lives are torturous realizations that she carries everywhere she goes.
Although far from a good person, Ithelien has never relinquished the faith in the Light instilled on her by her parents, not even after her passing encounter with the Void made the whole affair quite a bit more complicated. She does not kid herself into thinking this will grant her absolution for her sins -even if she is secretly desperate for it, and truly fears for her soul-, but she often feels compelled to make generous donations to the Church of the Holy Light and its various charitable initiatives. At the very least, she thinks, all this blood money she has accrued will help improve someone’s life and maybe, just maybe, earn her a modicum of mercy from whomever sorts the soul of the dead.
As a result of her untimely encounter with the Void, Ithelien suffers from the continuous intromission of senseless voices. Though she has attempted to make sense of what they say, it is all just noise as far as she can tell, garbled, pointless imbecility that wanes and waxes between soft whispers and mind-shattering screams. Though already well-acquainted with spirituous drinks before any of this happened, she has grown accustomed to liqueur as a way to quell the voices, becoming a functional alcoholic for all intents and purposes. She occasionally props this with narcotic admixtures of her own creation, but the fear of numbing her senses and dulling her mind makes them an option only when she truly feels close to losing her mind.
Born to Allathor and Althea Dawnstrider, Ithelien was brought up amidst the sumptuous luxury afforded by her family’s situation. As the youngest of three, however, her prospects were rather unremarkable: her eldest brother, Allanis, was to one day take upon the privileges and responsibilities of her father, and thus was prepared from his crib to become a leader; the second, Faerwen, had been raised to take upon the mantle of a priestess, being provided with the finest education. As for Ithelien, though her parents loved her dearly -or as dearly as their environment allowed-, all that was expected of her was to marry well and secure an alliance with another powerful house. Personal accomplishments from her were not only unneeded; they were a superfluous distraction.
She wasn't left entirely unprepared, though, trained for a life of aristocratic cunning and court intrigue; ambition and skulduggery were very much part of the daily life for prominent members of the Eversong manorial class, and her parents were not going to waste a perfectly good tool to work it with. Schooled in art, literature, music, and dance; taught the complexities of language, the intricacies of lawmaking, and the power of romance, she was to become a ferocious navigator of courtly life, knowing whom to manipulate, whom to enrapture, and whom to befriend. Trading in secrets and influences, using loveless flirtation when needed and cold rejection when otherwise… Ithelien told herself she hated it, but the truth was she did have a knack for it. Being a bit vacuous suited her well.
Eventually she learned to accept her reality and, to a degree, even enjoy it. Her wedding came soon -perhaps a bit too soon-, to an old, obese, but ultimately kind dilettante: Tharanos of House Ravenheart. Ithelien found him repulsive, but she had been trained to hide it, plus the Ravenhearts were a small, dying house endowed with astounding wealth, so all she was really required to be was patient. And bear him children.
This was the one part that Ithelien was not prepared to handle; that Tharanos was utterly unattractive certainly didn't help, but by principle she was mortified by the idea. In all her courtly romances and escapades, she had always been careful to keep both her emotions and others' hands in check, and while peers in her social circle enjoyed giving themselves into wild bouts of carnal pleasure, she maintained her distance. She wasn't entirely sure why (was it a way of maintaining control? Independence? Or was it that she simply didn't find the idea enticing?), but intimacy -true intimacy- made her profoundly uncomfortable.
Appearances had to be kept, however, and thus on their wedding night, Ithelien made sure that Tharanos's wine was spicier than usual; the ensuing sleep caught the rotund noble so tightly that, when he was received by Ithelien's radiantly fresh smile in the morning, it didn't take her long to convince him of his astounding feats in bed. He had no recollection of her spending the whole time glaring at him from a nearby couch and wishing to suffocate him with a gaudily-decorated pillow.
The new Lady Ravenheart quickly rose to her state. Her youth, beauty, and well-orchestrated facade of innocence had made the legion of sycophants and leeches surrounding Tharanos certain of their position, convinced that they could manipulate her to their whims. And she was happy to play along, always making sure to take out something from every transaction, building up her own network of confidants and spies in the process. Every favour asked of her camewith an implicit request, every hidden insult they threw answered with an equally hidden promise of payback.
The more astute schemers learned to respect her, while those less savvy fell to her charms and wits, equally able to maintain a conversation about the most elaborate of politics and the most mundane of knitting techniques. A wink at the right moment would help her win the favour of one of her husband’s decrepit but powerful friends, and a well-timed mistake make those who were suspicious feel safe in her naïveté. And every night, all she had to do was make sure Tharanos drank one of her concoctions. Though she occasionally felt pangs of guilt at the way she was using her husband -however physically unappealing and prone to carousing as he was, the noble had shown himself to be exceedingly kind and gentle, developing genuine love for his young wife-, she was enjoying this new life, and had found a way to circumvent paying anything for it. Alas, such arrangements rarely last for long.
The Ravenheart Widow
As it turned out, while her skills had allowed her to fool Lord Ravenheart for almost three years, they failed to warn her that the very same narcotics she had been feeding him to avoid consummating their marriage had been accumulating inside his body, creating a time bomb that, during one particular night when his passions were raging and Ithelien had to retort to a higher dose, finally exploded within his heart.
The old elf collapsed upon her; with no servants around -she expressly forbade any of them in their chambers for fear of being found out- and unable to draw enough of a breath to scream, Ithelien spent the entire night trapped under the body of the husband she had just murdered. The near-asphyxiation made her panic and the smell of the intoxicated body made her nauseous, but the knowledge of having killed somebody sank into her soul like a dagger of cold ice. And so there she remained, frozen in horror and shame, certain she would die soon and utterly hopeless for whatever fate awaited her.
When the servants discovered the grizzly scene, Ithelien was barely conscious, the crushing weight of her dead husband having reduced her breathing to a whisper. In the confusion that ensued, she was tended to by the manor’s physicians, and rumours began circulating of Tharanos’s murder, although it seemed that no one was seriously suspecting her.
Life resumed in a somewhat normal fashion at Ravenheart Manor, as a neverending procession came to pay their respects. Although she had to play the role of the mourning widow, the experience had broken something within Ithelien; while she did feel a degree of sorrow for Tharanos’s passing, the focus of her sadness was her own failings. She had never considered herself a saint, but neither had she felt truly evil; all the lies, manipulations, and deceit were simply part of court life, and she had been playing just as everyone else, to survive; hadn’t she been generous and kind with those she had learned to care about? But now she was a murderer, and calling it an unforeseeable accident would have been disingenuous.
Yet what bore the deepest hole in her heart was the distance she felt to the whole affair. “Ought I not be miserable? Ought I not be consumed by grief for what I have done?”, she asked herself. In the end, it was not the murder itself that shattered the illusion; it was the fact she didn’t feel as bad about having committed it as she thought she should.
As the months passed, Ithelien became lonely and distant; still young, captivatingly beautiful, and now fabulously wealthy, the list of suitors was growing, and her parents were keen on marrying her again. But she simply ignored the advances and requests; she had grown bolder, but also apathetic, as if the spark was gone. She would lock herself up in the manor and disappear for days, her servants finding her wearing the same gown she had put on a week ago, barely having eaten or spoken a word.
Despite her personal failings, Ithelien had always been kind and generous to her servants; with powerful, wealthy people she had no qualms in manipulating, extorting, and toying, but those in harsher stations she could not bring herself to harm. This made them care for her, and her increasing melancholy became a cause of great worry. And it would take one of them to bring colour back to her life.
Playing with the Big Boys Now
Arrel Autumnvale was a strapping young elf of humble stock, gifted with a voice that could put an angry moonkin to sleep -as well as the most luxurious auburn mane Ithelien had ever seen. Hired by the manor after the previous bard decided to retire, Arrel became intrigued with his new mistress, hidden away and distant. Every morning he would search for her in the labyrinthine gardens or amongst the dozens of empty rooms, hoping to sing her a tune or do a somersault that would bring a smile to that veiled face. Every night he would fill the silent hallways with quiet verses that would help her sleep.
She tried to avoid it, but Arrel's persistence wore her down. As the months passed, she became surprised as she felt longing for those playful hunts and melodious songs. The bard pressed on, but never made it easy; he knew she was watching between the curtains, or listening from a hiding spot behind a column, yet acted as if nothing. With time this became a game, and before long it was Ithelien the one chasing after Arrel.
Their love blossomed after that, and those were the happiest days Ithelien ever knew. It was simple, intense, heartfelt love, not a machination or a complicated web full of double-dealings and layers of distrust. Together they would dance, they would sing, they would embrace. Soon came the escapades and the playful risk-taking, and when Ithelien learned of Arrel's past as a street urchin, she urged him to show him where he came from.
It was a whole new world for her, of smelly, packed taverns and charming scoundrels, of kind-hearted prostitutes and grumpy fist-fighters in dark alleys. She was nervous and unprepared, but seeing all of this made her realise how small her life had been up to that point, and she felt desperate to expand it.
She found out her thirst for thrill and adventure, and Arrel happily provided. First it was minor dares, like spicing up the wine at a ball or pretending to be someone else during a masquerade, just to laugh at the ensuing confusion. Then came the dangerous ones, such as stealing exquisite art just to look at it. As the peril grew, so did their passion; breaking into a noble's house just to sleep together in his bed became a favourite of theirs. With Arrel, Ithelien no longer experienced that fear and disgust of intimacy that had marked her younger years, and she gave herself wholly, heart, soul, and body.
No one had ever made her feel like that, and with Arrel she finally understood what it was to be at peace with someone, truly at peace. After one particularly intense night of love, she opened her heart to him, and everything came out, the tears, the rage, the shame, the fear; she told him of those she had wronged and manipulated, of the cruelties she had inflicted, and of the husband she had murdered. It was like if a dam broke, and the torrent felt brutal, liberating. She was exhausted and trembling by the end, but also unburdened. To love someone so much she could confess to them was... new.
Arrel was gone the next day. The bard, whom she had felt as the rock on which she would rebuild her life, had vanished into thin air. Instead of that bright ember hair and wild green eyes, what greeted her in the morning were the cold stares and blades of the agents sent to capture her, and the contemptuous smirk of her late husband's confidants. They had always suspected her, but only now they knew the truth. Using Arrel -was that even his real name?- to make her fall in love and tear down what had once been her mighty walls was a bet, but their patience had paid off, and now she was done.
Ithelien was paralysed, but she could barely blame them. In the past she had thought herself sly and astute, and she pushed her luck when she tried to gain power and influence at the expense of those who had used her husband as a cover and conduit for their illicit businesses. In truth, she had always been far outmatched, she just had never been able to notice it. They played on a far deeper level than she ever could. Sly and astute indeed.
Heartbroken as she was, Ithelien was spent. She had no will to keep fighting, and was smart enough to understand she would not get out of that. And no matter what he had done, she could still feel her heart longing for Arral. Was that a sign of madness? She could not tell. All she knew is that she still loved him, and if he would just come back she would forget his treacheries like they had never happened. It scared her to realise how weak she really was, how the image she had built of herself was nothing but a phant'sy, but there was no point in lying to herself anymore. She needed him. She needed that light in her life.
To her surprise, Arrel came back. A few months had passed and Ithelien was rotting in Lord Blacksun's prison, a bargaining chip he meant to use to connive her parents into his criminal folds.
The bard looked different, jaded and without that bright smile that melted her so many times before. He was also colder, his voice harsh and devoid of that summer-like warmth. But he was there to help her. He did not say why, but she could feel that tingle of guilt in his eyes and... perhaps love? Had it been as real for him as it had been for her?
She tried to embrace him, her heart jumping at the thought of being together, but he pushed her away. "Do not confuse my pity with love, Ithelien". His voice was heavy with unshed tears, but he kept his composure "I do this to free myself of the burden of seeing you waste away in this hole, not for you". The look of hopelessness in her face, the lumped shoulders, and the quivering lips almost made him jump to hold her, but he was determined to make this quick and as painless as possible. He knew there was love, but he also knew that what they had both done would forever haunt them, and nothing could truly blossom in that barren field. Not anymore.
Making display of the same skills he had taught Ithelien back when they were happy and mischievous, Arrel managed to secure her escape. Consumed as she was by months of darkness, beatings, and cold, he had to practically carry her the whole way. She held onto him the best she could; the heat of his skin, the smell of his sweat, the measured beating of his heart even amidst all this danger comforted her. It would be the last time that she would feel that, that she would feel him.
He deposited her in a carriage hidden behind Blacksun Manor without saying a word; a bribed chauffeur was in charge of taking her to a contact in Silvermoon. For the next several weeks, she was passed from one agent to the next, sleeping in flea-infested holes hidden beneath the floor and tucked away with runaway criminals. It was horrible, but it was the only way to escape Blacksun's eyes.
Squalor and Vagabondry
Tucked away in an abandoned warehouse in Silvermoon, Ithelien had barely time to recuperate before she was on the run again, still half-dead, wounds infected, and emaciated. She had foolishly thought this would end with her family rescuing her, and that foamy baths and liver pâté were not too distant. Alas, none of that came to happen, and soon she was forced again into hitching through smuggling rings and refugee networks. Arrel had been poignant in that she would never be truly safe again, but a measure of distance would give her a chance, and she scurried as far away from Quel’thalas as she was able.
This run made her realise just how little control she truly had of her situation, how chimerical her life had been up until that moment, and how easily she wound up in squalor the moment the illusion broke. Her resources had dried up, either out of reach or outright seized-up by her enemies and the remainder of the Ravenheart family; most of her contacts had scorned her once news of her actions had begun circulating, and the few that she could have relied upon would be put at risk if she came to them -not that she knew how to reach them at this point, anyway. She had always believed herself to be someone capable of overcoming challenges, to be in charge of herself; now she knew it was all a lie.
Arrel’s favours could take her only so far, every new handler being less trusting and inclined to help than the last, until she found herself with a slammed door on her face and absolutely no clue of what to do, barely even aware of where she was at all. Lordaeron, it seemed; she had met some local dignitaries years ago in balls, and the accent sounded familiar. If she remembered her tutelage well, the Kingdom of Gilneas lay somewhere to the south… oh! Master Whispersilk, the only tailor her mother trusted, lived there! She still remembered him from his yearly visits to their manor to take measures and inform every one of the latest fashions. He was a tailor, but… she had no one else.
It took her months to find her way south to Gilneas, losing count of the number of times she had gotten lost in the process. At first, she almost died of exposure and starvation, stubbornly refusing to even consider doing the types of things someone in her situation was bound to do. But conceit can only hold against hunger for so much, and eventually the scraps of this tavern, the water in that pig’s trough, and the hay behind those stables became stand-ins for smoked quail, silvergrape vintage, and canopied beds. Half-chewed cow sinew wasn’t that bad after all… well, it was, it was bad, but the grease stuck to it gave it a… a je ne se quoi, a hint of… ugh, no, it was utterly horrible. But it was also the only choice.
Unsure of how she managed to survive at all, she stumbled upon the cobblestones of Gilneas. People wrinkled their noses at her, and quite the spectacle she made; she had been beautiful and graceful, courteous and well trained, but walking barefoot, tied-up in rags, her wounds rotten with disease, and her body infested with pests, not even street abusers took an interest in her.
Master Whispersilk’s staff shooed her off when she came asking for him; they had already given yesterday’s scraps to the wretch before her. She insisted, and one of the guards told her off with a well-planted kick to the stomach. Out of air, spitting blood, and probably with a couple of broken ribs, she crawled away and hid in the stables, crying, waiting to die, and cursing her luck… no, cursing herself. None of this had been luck; she had brought every single thing upon herself with her actions, her over-inflated ego, and her comical incapacity to see just how inconsequential she had always been. Her parents had been right to prepare her for nothing more than trade marriages, and she had done them a disfavour -and dishonour- in thinking she had any right to aim higher. And Arrel… oh, Arrel, Arrel.
They must have thought she was dead when they found her, because she could hear them wondering if burning an elf’s body was bad luck or not. A whimper startled them, and one of the stable hands almost hit her with a broom thinking she was an undead or something. The commotion brought the attention of one of the manservants, who recognised her; he had been part of Master Whispersilk’s entourage during his yearly trips to service the Eversong nobility, and while now in his 50’s, he was a strapping young man back then, and he distinctly remembered Ithelien’s not-so-veiled gazes of interest. Nothing would ever have come out of that, he knew, but he still longed for those early Spring tours, if just to get a blushing wink.
He hurried her decaying body inside and set aside a special room by the cellar to treat her. Master Whispersilk was a rich elf, well-respected in Gilneas, and the house’s physician was called-in to see to her wounds. She was ridden with the pox, her insides were a feast for all manners of vermin, and she was so underfed he could pick her up with one hand; she was likely a few days away from dying. How long had she been laying at the stables? They should check the horses in case they caught something from her, he recommended. But with the proper care and a bit of the master’s personal reserve of imported Sunwell water, she should be back in health soon… ish.
Master Whispersilk arrived three days later, having been off negotiating a fur trade with troll hunters to the north-east. Always one to stay up to current in all matters aristocratic, he knew of Ithelien’s disgrace at court, of her falling-out with the Eversong manorial class, and of her family’s disowning of her despite her mother’s protests (this he opted not to tell her for the time being, for fear of causing her distress). He informed her that all her assets had been forfeited to Lord Ravenheart’s cousin, one Melendor, as she had been declared dead and in any case a criminal to be scorned, but gossip abounded regarding her body never having been found, with all manners of colourful stories springing up about her running away with a vagabond and becoming a pirate, or being captured into an Amani warlord’s harem, or having turned into witchcraft and plotting to poison everyone.
The truth being so much more mundane and nauseating to look at did give Master Whispersilk a bit of a disappointment, but he was a warm, kind-hearted fellow, and he had always enjoyed the respect and appreciation the Dawnstriders had given him -he owed a good part of his clients to Althea’s recommendations-, so he offered Ithelien to stay at his home until she could recuperate, and to help her in her tribulations once she did. All in utmost discretion, of course, but he pressed on her to, at least, let him inform her suffering mother of her life during next year’s tour. Feverish, she never quite knew what he told him about that, and the thought haunts her until this day.
Flowers, Numbers, and Professors Quaint
Nursing back to full health took months, but once she was well-enough to stand she demanded to be allowed to earn her keep somehow. While her household skills were lacking at best, she did know how to sew and knit, and she had a fantastic eye for fabrics. She was put to work with the master’s personal head seamstress, under the name of Erathiel Willowbrook, assisting in the confection of suits and dresses meant for some of the most demanding clients. She may have been cut-off from fashion for almost a year by now, but her insight into the minds of Eversong nobles was still quite useful in making decisions on which plumes to use and just how much arcane glitter to employ (the answer was: “Absolutely nothing! I did not expect you to be so gaudy, miss Buntings”).
She had to remain inside, however. Gilneas may have been far away from Quel’thalas, but it was still a bustling trading centre, and many elves passed through; the Blacksuns were a powerful merchant house, and all it took was a single tell for her life to be forfeit.
To stave off her going insane, Master Whispersilk let Ithelien help in the general running of his household which, in truth, did need a bit of a young woman’s touch. And she took it with force, enlivening the house with stupendous flower arrangement, fixing the curtains, hiding some of the more hideous art pieces and replacing them with the more elegant ones she found in the basement; she would direct servants during banquets, train the maids in the proper fluffing of a pillow, and berate the fishmongers when freshness wasn’t up to par. It was menial work, but she found out it made herself feel useful, giving her a daily objective. It also helped quell the regrets that filled her up, making her busy enough that they only attacked her in her sleep.
An old elf who had never gotten married or issued any children, Master Whispersilk came to enjoy this situation, and as time passed took on an almost fatherly relationship with Ithelien, who answered in kind. She had grown to care for him and the other members of the household, in ways she hadn’t expected she could. Sometimes, when the guests were good enough of trust, he would invite her to participate, surprising them with her witticisms and acute observations; she dressed and looked the part -prudently-, but dinners with these merchants, far more liberal and relaxed than those of the Thalassian old guard, allowed her to speak and learn of things she had never even heard about: trade and finances, mathematical models for predicting the shortage of goods, statistical analysis of shipping schedules, alchemy, zoology, astronomy… the selection of guests that visited Master Whispersilk’s banquets and smaller coteries oozed cleverness and innovation, far from the dull, repetitive superficiality she had been used to flourish in.
She learned about how the Master had for years been financing thinkers and philosophers, and that as a result his home was at the centre of a sort of community of professors, doctors, and theoreticians. Apparently, he felt that the magical wonders of Quel’thalas had made the elves complacent, but amongst the humans of Gilneas he had found a type of thirst for knowledge and curiosity that, he said, would one day conquer the world. Though a humble -if very rich- tailor himself, he was fascinated with new models of thought.
To her this felt like lifting a veil from her eyes. She had never considered herself stupid, but she also never harboured any pretences as to the extent of her knowledge of the sciences, numbers, and shapes; it was just not something a noble, let alone a woman, was meant to care about, period. But now she was hearing about all of this… and not just hearing but talking about it! She was beyond herself every time the conversation meandered into a particular geometrical theorem or banking postulation and she understood it. Well, perhaps not fully, not at first, but the principles, they made sense to her. She could feel the connections between numbers and the patterns forming in front of her eyes. Magic she could never truly grasp, but this… Natural Philosophy, as these men called it, this she felt primed to grasp. If only she could train herself better to really understand…
Ithelien became a staple of the Invisible College, as the group of thinkers styled themselves. She was aware that, at least at the beginning, this was more on account of her looks and presence than any regard for her ideas, enlivening the evenings of these musty and solitary men of philosophy. But after nearly a year of regular participation they started to genuinely respect her mind and acumen. She became such an avid reader of papers and demonstrations that some of them, particularly the newer members who rarely got more than a few minutes to speak, began sending drafts to her in advance, to try and count on her as an advocate. This earned her the good graces of many and gave her a constant stream of new material, which she gobbled-up with gusto.
Of all the subjects, perhaps the two that most elicited her interest were alchemy and finances. Of the former she already knew a thing or two, from her ultimately fatal attempts to manipulate her late husband, but the latter was an entirely new territory for her. The notions and principles just made sense to her, and she wanted in, not just to study it, but to actually take part in it.
By this point she had already been living in Gilneas for nearly five years in almost absolute seclusion and, so far, everything had gone swimmingly. Naturally, she felt a bit emboldened, and before long she was making escapades in the morning to check on the new and exciting stock markets that sprang in the busiest squares of the city. When Mrs. Bunting found out one day, instead of telling on her, she sewed her a new attire, cut her hair, and helped her pass as a man, allowing Ithelien for the first time in years to freely roam and interact with people in the open.
The elf was beyond ecstatic, and quickly found out she had a knack for the stuff: she would sit around in coffee houses, pretending to be one Mr. Brightriver, a textile merchant from Silvermoon, listening to rumours of wars, shipwrecks, and new inventions, then use the information to speculate on the stocks of merchant ventures, shipping insurances, and trade companies. She did this on a very humble scale with the few coins to her name, but it was enough to whet her appetite. She knew she had found something she was indeed good at, and by the Light, after a life of failures and mistaken assumptions about herself, she was going to claw her way to the top of this pile. Maybe, once she did, she would finally be able to face her fears and be in control of her destiny... yes! This was it, her way out of the cloying, fearful mess her life had turned into! She would learn everything there was to be learned about markets, banking, trading, and become so rich, so powerful that her enemies, and those who claimed once to have been her friends, would be begging to earn her favour. Revenge borne out of success. She could almost taste it.
Egleton, Brightriver & Co.
Thomas Egleton, one of the younger and most vivacious members of the Invisible College, had caught Ithelien’s eye early on, and she would often find herself stretching her neck to see if he was present at the meetings. His geometrical models were not the wildest showcases, and his papers on hydrodynamics were rather derivative, but the way he carried himself, the passion in his voice, his unrelenting thirst for knowledge, and, let’s be honest, his decidedly good looks, made her feel things she hadn’t since her days with Arrel. The stares gave way to smiles, the smiles to winks, the winks to touches; with her social life consisting of a couple of scientific meetings a week and the few hours a day when she pretended to be a man in order to buy stock, it was no wonder that she found this game to be exhilarating, and it wasn’t long before they were sleeping together.
It went on for months, and every encounter felt as wonderful as the last. He was smart, and kind, and fun, and… oh, to be able to love and trust someone in that way again felt liberating, it felt bright. Between this and her newfound sense of purpose, Ithelien allowed herself to dream again. It had been a winding road for sure, but perhaps this was the basis on which to build herself up? A field on which she was good, and a man -a human, of all things, with his cute little ears and ticklish beard- to walk alongside with, to start a family with. Maybe she had paid enough for her mistakes, and the Light was showing her the way towards a happy ending after all.
When Thomas learned about Ithelien’s identity as Mr. Brightriver he found the idea too entertaining to let it pass, and he proposed that they became associates in public, so that they could spend time under the sun together. While not a rich man, Thomas was an up-and-coming figure amongst mathematicians, and several nobles and merchants employed his services, enough that he earned a comfortable living. In a show of trust that left Ithelien love-struck, Thomas put aside most of his savings and told her to put their minds together into investing them. He did not just love her; he respected her mind. That night was the most passionate either of them could recall.
Passing as a friend of Thomas opened many doors for Ithelien -for Mr. Brightriver. From Kul Tiran fur traders and dwarven bankers, to goblin speculators and spice merchants from distant Tel’Abim, using his connections and her charms, his expertise with numbers and her guile with finances, they soon began to see success. Ithelien amassed enough money to pay Master Whispersilk back for all his incredible generosity, and Thomas was able to purchase a picturesque apartment in one of the fancier neighbourhoods of Gilneas -setting aside a room to rent out to Mr. Brightriver. This way, they could live together without raising any suspicions, keeping Ithelien’s identity hidden. They opened a proper business, Egleton, Brightriver & Co., and set out to carve their way in the cutthroat world of trade company stock.
It was perfect, and the joy she felt every morning made her heart feel twice as big.
This arrangement allowed both to prosper, and within a few years they were cuddling with the crème of Gilnean society, handling the investments of several heavy names amongst the nobility and bourgeoisie; even disguised as a man, Ithelien’s courtly experience allowed them to join the complicated dance of protocols, double-entendres, and high-society intrigue, scoring appetizing invitations to some of the most exclusive balls and meetings the kingdom had to offer.
It was during one of these cotillions that they met the sharp and ambitious Elizabeth Carbey, the young daughter of a powerful marquis. While secretly they were lovers, Thomas and Ithelien pretended to be bachelors in public, and Ms. Carbey’s eyes were quick to settle on the promising Mr. Egleton. While he did his best to dodge the woman, Elizabeth proved to be unrelenting: she convinced her father to make a sizeable investment with their company, and used this as both a pretext and a tool to force her way into his life.
From Ms. Carbey’s perspective this was a done deal; Thomas was simply being coy, perhaps playful, and she pressed her advantage. What was there not to like? She was smart, pretty, and wealthy; she could provide him with a title and connections, as well as children and good company. He was almost thirty too, so it was a good enough time for him to settle down. Was he going to live as a bachelor with his friend forever? With this in mind, she burst into Thomas’s apartment one day, hoping to sweep him off his feet. Instead, he found him passionately kissing Mr. Brightriver.
Perhaps it was the shock, perhaps it was the feeling of being rejected without a word, of being inadequate and undesired, but seeing Thomas kissing another man sent Elizabeth into a fit of rage; she threatened to destroy his reputation, to make the entire kingdom know of his perverted ways, and to make sure he would never see a copper again.
She stormed out, and their home went silent. Even knowing what would happen to his life and name, Thomas kept quiet; he had never really known why Ithelien needed to remain hidden, but that she asked him was all he needed. This struck deep within her, and the realisation hurt; she could not do it, she couldn’t let Thomas sacrifice himself like that for her. Moments later, she was in the street, grabbing Elizabeth by the arm and telling her the truth. Thomas had tried to stop Ithelien, but it was too late. The look they exchanged, him behind the window upstairs, her on the wet cobblestone below, felt like the prologue of a goodbye.
Elizabeth felt scorned, and her reaction was venomous; within days, Ithelien’s identity was making the rounds in the tea salons of the nobility and coffee shops of the merchants. Both her and Thomas scrambled to salvage the situation, with moderate success; after all, the fact that she was a woman shouldn’t present much of an issue, and they had proven their skills in finances and the markets more than enough. But when people began connecting the dots and it became known that she was the Ravenheart Widow, whose perfidious reputation had only grown worse in the preceding years, everything crumbled: Mr. Brightriver’s ruse was old news a week later; her crimes, both real and imagined, were now the talk of the city.
Investors pulled their money en masse, and soon their entire operation was aflame, with bankers banging at their door and furious clients demanding their deposits. None of this mattered, however; when Thomas heard of her crimes, he would not believe it, he refused, for he knew Ithelien’s heart. He proposed to escape with her, to get married somewhere distant, where they could begin a new life together.
To this day, Ithelien still does not know why she didn’t just lie to him; it would have been so easy, her life would have been so different. Perhaps that is what true love means, to care so much for someone that one is willing to let them go. And she did; she confessed. The parallels with Arrel almost made her laugh, except for the fact that, this time, she was giving up so much more; she was with child, and knew well that he was the kind of man who would have tolerated even a murderer like her had he known, which is precisely why she opted not to tell him. She was responsible for destroying her own life, and she would do everything in her power to avoid bringing down Thomas with her. None of this felt right, but she did not know how else to handle it.
Thomas told her she could remain in the apartment until the next day, but that once he came back, he expected her to be gone. He would take care of the clients and bankers as a final favour, but she had no place in his life anymore. He walked out, torn and broken-hearted, and that was the last time Ithelien ever saw him.
Ithelien’s past caught up with her quickly after that; she knew it was just a matter of time before Lord Blacksun’s agents became aware of her whereabouts, and she needed to be brisk. Thomas had left her a bag of gold in her room -the pain of seeing that gesture took the air from her lungs-, which she used to buy the first passage she could find; perhaps she could begin anew, again, amongst the humans in the distant south. Somewhere quiet, somewhere where her name and face could be forgotten, somewhere to raise their child in anonymity, and eventually fade away, forever.
And fade away she would, just not in the way she wanted.
She was sleeping in a cheap inn by the port when they came for her, woken up by the sound of her door crashing down. When she first saw the face of her sister Faerwen, she felt a sudden flash of confused elation, which faded away quickly.
“All you had to do was marry rich and die young. Yet all your uncanny capacity to survive has done is bring pain and disgrace to our family. Since you just will not die, I will make sure your life becomes as meaningless and inconsequential as it can be.“
The relationship with her family had always been reasonably warm, at least as far as aristocratic ways allowed, so these actions came as a surprise. As she learned years after the fact, everything had gone downhill after her murder had become public: the Dawnstriders lost any claims to the wealth she inherited from her late husband -which they had spent quite happily in anticipation-, causing them to default on their debts and fall into a catastrophic bankruptcy. Attempting to salvage their situation, her father had sold the last of the family heirlooms to purchase a ship of southern spices, which floundered and sealed their fate. Facing economic ruin and the social disaster brought upon by the ever-growing list of misdeeds attributed to Ithelien (they had always been suspects in the murder, accused of having orchestrated it to keep the money), her father fell into despair; a stroke shortly after left him bedridden and unable to speak. While her older brother’s love for her little sister never faded, Faerwen blamed her for everything, and the years and challenges had rotted her resentment into hate.
Master Whispersilk had indeed told her mother of Ithelien’s survival, and both agreed to keep it a secret. But her sister overheard, and when rumours of the Ravenheart Widow showing up in Gilneas made their way up to Eversong, Faerwen didn’t hesitate: she contacted Lord Blacksun, and offered to give him the revenge he wanted in exchange for saving her family from squalor.
“Lord Blacksun sends his regards, sister dearest.”
Those were the last words she heard from her before the brutes Faerwen had hired wrapped her in her own bedsheets and threw her inside a trunk.