Title: Into the Heart of the Whole
Characters: Maerklon El’lome, Ophandir the Impertinent, Padraig O’Malley, Morrigan of Hambolshire, Moghendhim Tathar’an, Bronwyn Greenhands
Warnings: I remember parts of this having been pretty goddamned nasty — dismemberment, burning villages, that sort of thing.
Notes: Six parts of a step into fantasy writing, this long-abandoned work was my first step into the genre. The characters were all based on friends, and in the end, I stole a username from one of my creations… These were all written in 2002.
Maerklon El’lome bore his name for a reason; he was rather dun-coloured compared to most of his kin in the valley, coltishly long-limbed, and quite unusually strong. He was regarded warily by his neighbours, who expected his family’s madness to manifest in him at any moment. After so many years with them, he was frankly surprised to find that his family hadn’t driven him crazy. For the past several years of his life, he had slept outside, at the top of a tall terebinth tree — eccentric to be certain, but indubitably safer than sleeping in the house with his mother and siblings. He shuddered to think what things he might wake to if he slept within their reach. But it is good that he chose to sleep in the tree, for in the end, it saved him from more than the curious rages of his delusional relations.
It was a cool, spring night when the goblin raiders came over the hill — all but a few of the valley’s residents slept peacefully in their beds, or at least as peacefully as could ever be expected for some. The odd few youths were clustered about their porches, drinking cider and recounting stories of their bravery and their ways with women. Maerklon lay awake upon a wide branch, considering that perhaps it was time to take his inheritance, and perhaps that of his brothers as well, and leave the valley and his deranged family behind him forever. It was not an unpleasant thought, but it was interrupted by a long howl, and the thundering of many feet.
The dogs came first — vicious, skinless hellhounds, pain-mad and starving — and shortly on their heels, wave after wave of goblins sluiced bloodily through the village. The archers woke swiftly, and rose to their duty; a hail of arrows rained down from the rooftops, but they were badly outnumbered. Maerklon could hear them screaming as, felled by enemy fire, they pitched off their perches into the jaws of the hounds below. The goblins had forced their way into most of the houses below, and a huge swath of the village was on fire. Maerklon listened silently to mothers lamenting their children, sobbing as the young ones were dragged into the streets, rent, and eaten. The laments, he noticed, were short lived; goblin bloodthirst is heightened by the sound of fear. He pulled his cloak about himself, and huddled close to the trunk of the tree, hoping it would end soon, and he drifted off to sleep to the symphony of cracking bone and dying wails.
When Maerklon woke, the valley was aflame. For three days and three nights, the fire below blazed, but on the third night, a gentle rain damped the brightest tongues of flame. When the fourth day dawned, the ground was cool enough to stand on in a few places, and Maerklon stiffly climbed down from the terebinth. The valley was a ruin. As he wandered the narrow streets between the smoking piles of charred wood and bone, he salvaged what could be taken from the wreckage — a miraculously whole leather satchel, a few handfuls of unmelted coins, some slightly charred vegetables. He surveyed the flickering cinder that had been his family’s home. He hadn’t liked them, and probably would have wound up murdering one of his brothers in order to escape with what he wanted, but somehow, it was still not okay that the goblins had gotten them. His eye wandered to a small gleam on a charred lump. He wandered over for a closer look, and realised the gleam was a small ring he’d crafted for his sister’s birthingday, many years ago. He’d liked his sister; she was nearly sane. Prying the ring from her blistered and blackened flesh, he pocketed it, and moved on.
As he set out from the valley, on the only road that led in, Maerklon passed a single small dwelling, untouched by the flames. Hoping there might have been another survivor, he knocked. After several minutes, there was no answer, and he let himself in. In the centre of the room sat a beautiful elfin maiden with five goblin arrows protruding from her chest, and her limp hands still tangled in the violin and bow in her lap. At last, a single tear came to his eye. Maerklon gently drew out the arrows, and laid her out for burial on a nearby table. He claimed the violin as his own, vowing to learn to play it, someday, and leaving, he set the cottage afire. At least one of the dead would receive a proper funeral.
Maerklon managed a few sombre notes on the violin, packed it, and fled the valley to seek his solace in the outlying lands.
Notes: Technically, El’lome is an appellation, not a moniker, and the name should be al’El’lome, meaning ‘the dark star’. For some reason, I didn’t like it, and had a bit of poetic license with the name. Maerklon, translated literally, is ‘brown horse’; translated figuratively it is ‘plough horse’, or ’tiller of fields’. The idea is that any of these translations would not be wildly inaccurate descriptions of the character in the eyes of his neighbours.
Kamithri Ladykiller was damned tall for a kender, but nobody really minded; instead, they heaped their insults and abuse on his older, and equally tall, brother, Ophandir the Impertinent. Both brothers were the result of their mother’s indiscretions with men of taller races. Kamithri was well blessed with his mother’s charms, if not her diminutive stature, and made use of those charms as often as possible. Ophandir hated to be touched. He wasn’t misogynistic, or even particularly misanthropic, to be honest; it was simply that he’d spent too much time around the folk in the shire not to know their intentions toward him. And the travellers he encountered at the pub were even more frightening in their intent, which usually was to put him in a dress and rape him. It was nearly enough to make a man quit drinking. ‘Nearly’ being the operative word; it was very unlikely that Ophandir would be separated from his whiskey against his will, and the more he thought about the unwashed ruffians who regularly accosted him, the more he wanted a drink. Kamithri was never disgraced in this fashion, but as Ophandir thought more of it, Kamithri also had rippling muscles and masculine pride. Ophandir, on the other hand, was possessed of neither of these traits, thin and wan as he was; often times, folk he had not known growing up took him for a woman, as he slouched in the corner of the pub with his psaltery, red hair spilt about his shoulders like a mess of bloody blades.
Ophandir was quite the accomplished bard, often tending toward political themes, and perhaps his talent was due to his early exposure to the scalding taunts of other folk in the shire. Either way, his wit was almost mystically caustic. Those who found themselves on the wrong side of his artistry were often examined for burns and missing pieces at the end of the performance. There was no subject too risqué, no cow too sacred to escape the attention of Ophandir and the searing critique inherent in his speech. As oft despised as he was, by even his own peers, Ophandir had a grudging retinue from among the malcontent youth of the shire. He thought it sad that they hadn’t the wit to be angered when he derided them. He suspected they thought he was talking about someone else. Ophandir twitted them once more from his post at the end of the bar, before he returned to his writing with a heavy heart. The adolescents of the shire were disappointing, so dull of wit and temperament that their antics did not gall the bard, or even draw his attention, more often being simplistic dramatic travesties, far beneath his notice. It made him sad. Even those halfling youths who did not want a simple life of farming and harvesting and keeping tradition lacked the perspicacity to do anything else.
It was after much consideration of his duties to family and shire, of which he at last decided he had none, that Ophandir came to the conclusion that he would be better off away from the shire, and the shire would be better away from him. Finally, much to the relief of the long term residents of the shire, Ophandir packed up his lute and a few apples and set out to offend the rest of the world.
Padraig’s Younger Days
Libby O’Malley had lived alone in Cambry since the death of her husband Mitchell many years before. It was with some surprise, then, that she observed a baby in a basket on her porch, as these sorts of things are not usually left to old widows. She studied the basket and its oddly noiseless occupant for some time before picking up the bundle and carrying it into the house. What an odd gift, she thought, searching the baby’s swaddling for a note of some sort, didn’t foundlings usually come with some sort of note explicating their names and origins? She found nothing but an unhealthy looking baby boy with wide, blue eyes. In fact, she was so taken with his eyes that she almost failed to notice his tail and stubby horns. Gwythyr be damned, she thought, a tiefling baby!
Well, Libby had always wanted a child to raise and call her own, but with Mitchell long dead, she hadn’t thought it very likely. Here was her chance; perhaps not an ideal first child, this part demon thing, but her child nonetheless, she supposed. It had been a day, and there hadn’t been a sound from the child, and Libby worried that there might be something amiss with his hearing, but he seemed to absorb the whole of his environment despite his stillness. With great expectations for his intelligence, and great hopes for his future, she dubbed him Padraig.
Padraig O’Malley was raised as Libby’s own son, and she told her neighbours that he had been the child of her unfortunately late young niece. She expended no small effort hiding his semi-demonic appearance from her neighbours in the village. The last thing she needed was half of Cambry deciding that she had been consorting with fiends. Years passed in this fashion, with Padraig growing older, stronger, and taller; wiser and healthier. Libby was pleased to have his company as she got on in years, and his help in the fields was immeasurable. Surely a woman of her age would not have been able to do the work this young man could do. He took up painting in the evenings, sitting out upon the fences and creating fantastic scenes of things that might be, somewhere in the world. Libby had never seen places and people such as Padraig created in charcoal and ochre, and she hung the best of them in their small home, letting the images ease her mind when she was concerned, for surely a world that could create scenes like this could not be all bad, and hence, neither could her little fiendling. Sometimes she still worried that someday that heritage would start to show in more noticeable ways — ways that wouldn’t be disguised by clever clothing.
As Padraig grew into manhood, there were no indications that he would manifest fiendish behaviours, although discord seemed to follow in his wake. It wasn’t particularly his fault, insofar as there wasn’t a damned thing he could do to fix it, and so he let it be, content to paint in the evening air and ignore the giggling girls from the village who would gather to watch him work. Despite his moderately odd manner of dress, Padraig was a very handsome young man, and even at this late date, retained the hypnotic gaze that had so inspired his foster mother. The village girls thought that he would be the ideal sort of boy to bring home to their parents, and eventually marry. Each and one, they fantasized about living in Libby’s quaint little house with this wonderful example of charm, breeding, and talent. Somehow, they never noticed that Padraig’s only comments to them were that he was not ideal, they blocked his light, and that they should all pike off because he didn’t like walking all the way back to the house to pay his respects to good Saint John.
Padraig went on in this fashion for quite some time, always keeping his back to the girls who tempted him nearly into madness. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the attention, or that he didn’t like the girls — Gwythyr knows, Padraig loved girls — but he had to drive them away, or they would lead him not only into temptation, but very likely his own death. If they only knew, he thought, they’d run screaming to the council to have me stoned. The girls knew none of this, and suspected he would marry after Libby had breathed her last; perhaps it was true.
There is only so much abuse the human body can endure in one lifetime, and at last Libby was laid to her final rest. Padraig had her buried in Cambry’s lone cemetery, alongside generations of other O’Malleys, and returned to the house in a black humour. He no longer had Libby’s honour to concern him, if he chose to reveal his nature, but he did not want to tarnish her reputation. In his misery at the cemetery, he had nearly rent his clothes and wept, but his tail kept him from a proper display of grief. Would it always be like this? Was it possible that the village of Cambry knew his heart well enough to overlook his appearance? Gwythyr be damned if Padraig knew the answer. He would put on a stew, he decided, and take a good, long nap. Or so he thought, when he heard a knock at the door. It was not the timorous knock of a fellow mourner, it was brash, bold and almost … joyful. A traveller perhaps? Padraig wasn’t sure he could handle a wanderer at this point, never mind a band of them, but the chaos awoke in his breast, and thrust into the discordant ripple, he opened the door…
A Traveller in Cambry
Padraig looked dazedly at the apparition on his doorstep. She was only as tall as his shoulder, and he wasn’t all that tall, and she wore a simple green dress, a travelling cloak, and a wide brimmed hat, much like his own. She was sodding wet from the rain.
"Hello," she said, with a sardonic smile, "your town seems to be all shut down and sealed up — I cannot find an open inn, or even a pub, and it is very wet and cold out here. Might I take a rest in your barn?"
Something about her fascinated him; her smile and humour were like a cool wind, soothing to his raw state. Obviously, she was a doer of things — a woman alone on the road has no time to wait for things to be done. Recalling that he’d just put up a stew, he invited her to come in and have supper with him.
"My name is Morrigan," she said, as she stepped through the door, "and I come from Hambolshire." She let him take her wet cloak and hat and hang them by the fire.
After a pause, he replied, with some surprise, "Hambol is a long way from here, small one. You’ve travelled quite far." He paused. "Forgive my manners, I am Padraig, and my mother was buried today. It’s why the lodging options are so bleak out there." His face twisted into a masque of disgust. "No one paid her any mind until she was dead," he snarled, "All of Cambry mourns for a woman they never took the time to know — except the girls, i suppose. They’re not mourning at all. They came to —" and here, he sneered, "—to comfort me. They all thought I’d need them when she died; that I’d pick a wife from among them, right there at the graveside! One of them even asked who would darn my socks for me now! Like I can’t do for myself…" He slumped in a kitchen chair. "I’m sorry, it’s been a day. I don’t mean to burden you."
Morrigan opened her mouth to declaim his apology, but before she could speak, he leaned back tiredly, letting his hat fall to the floor. She noticed that he had two small horns jutting from his forehead — looked rather good on him, in her inexpert opinion. "Oh," she said, "I had wondered…About the hat, I mean…"
Padraig sat bolt upright as the implications came to him, and a horrified look crept across his face. She’d seen his horns! Surely she would…would…well, something bad, no doubt. In his suddenly muddled state, he could no longer coherently imagine the consequences. He froze.
"What?" Morrigan asked innocently, "I rather like them. They add a certain charm."
"You know I’ve had roosters with a lighter load," he smirked, resignedly, "but thanks for the sentiment."
"Your shite rooster and I maintain no semblance," she replied, with a droll look and a dry smile gracing her face, "as I am not full of shite. I really think they’re an appealing addition to your countenance."
He shook his head.
"Forgive me if it’s none of mine, but I gather from your reaction that your neighbours don’t know about those?" She gestured at his stubby horns. "I’d also suppose that you think they’d not approve."
He smirked at her. "Is it that obvious?"
"But that’s chant enough about me," he said with a weary smile, "What brings you out so far from home?"
Morrigan blinked, and debated whether or not to tell her tale to the odd fiendling across the table. After all, she was in the lands of men, now, and one could never be certain about their kind; on the other hand, Padraig was obviously an outcast, and if he sold her for supper, she could return the favour.
"Well," she said, "It began like this…"
Years ago, in the far reaches of Hambolshire, there lived a young halfling girl and her mother and brother. She was a lively young thing, and loved to dance, sing, and tell stories when she was not about her work, and sometimes, even when she was. In the mornings she milked, in the evenings she cooked, and most of the time in between she sat outside sewing and hoped for a passing traveller to whom she could trade bread for fresh stories.
She was quite content and set in her ways for many years, and she learned many a tale sitting out by the gate with some loaves and her stitchery. It was a good life for a halfling girl, and some day, she thought, she would marry and have children like herself to keep the farm running and the stories coming in. And, so, she was sitting out to meet fate on the day her life was changed.
It was her sixteenth birthingday, and the air was sweet with the smell of drying hay. While she watched the road, she stitched up the hole her brother had put in his pants when he jumped out of the loft and caught himself on a nail. Boys were just like that, she supposed, clumsy and rash. She sighted a cloud of dust up the road, and guessed it would be a messenger from the town up the road riding to the next shire with his package. Nothing else ever moved that quickly. As the rider approached, she discovered that she had been mistaken; he was tall as men are tall, and his horse was foaming as though he’s crossed two shires alredy that day. He looked afraid, as he drew his horse to a halt beside the gate.
"My name is Randall," he gasped, "Please help…" And with that, he toppled from his exhausted horse, and hit the ground with a resounding thud. Morrigan looked more closely at him: his tangle of long dark hair, the torn black cloak, the gaping wound in his side. Her eyes grew wide. She thought quickly, and using the pair of pants she’d been sewing to extend her reach, she managed to get the wounded traveller draped across his slouching stallion. Luckily, the tired beast was in no shape to argue with her. She collected her things, and led the horse and its unconscious rider back toward the house.
It was weeks before Randall could stand. Whoever he had fought had done more damage than was initially suspected. Morrigan stayed by his side, and cared for him as best as she could, changing his bandages and bringing him water. He had, she thought, the most intriguing violet eyes, when they were open, that was. What intrigued her the most, though, were his dreams. He had violent nightmares and called out in his sleep. He spoke deliriously of wizards and conjurers and their armies of devils from the blasted lands; from what she could gather, there had been a great battle in one of the Houses of Magic, but she knew almost nothing about them, so she couldn’t tell which one. Why would the wizards of a cloth take to killing one another? It didn’t make sense, but it was what he screamed about when he dreamed. When he did wake, he would quietly beg her for water, and swear she’d come down for him from the places beyond the sky.
When, at last, he had recovered enough to stay awake for more than a few minutes, Randall was introduced to the rest of the family that had saved him. He was not a terrible wizard, he claimed, and he was a fair scholar, to boot. He offered to repay their hospitality by staying on as a teacher for Morrigan, to be certain she learned things of the world that would never fail to impress an audience — stories from the goblin lands, the way to tame wild birds to sing along to music, all sorts of wild things that a girl who likes stories should know. Morrigan eagerly accepted, and for five years, she was his eager student. Sometimes, sitting in his room in the loft, she would ask him about things that he’d glossed over, but he would get a faraway look in his eye, and say "I hope you never know, little one."
For her twenty-first birthingday, Randall presented Morrigan with a small silver ring, of dwarvish design, beset with a rich blue crystal from the southern lands. Before she could draw breath, he proposed. Morrigan was overjoyed. She could have everything she dreamed she would have and so much more! Not only would she have the farm and the children, but she would have wise and lovely Randall to share them with. She looked deep into his enchanting violet eyes and accepted.
That night as she slept, Morrigan was awakened by a sound from outside the house. As she came to consciousness, she realised it was the horses out in the barn — and they were screaming? She hadn’t realised horses could scream until that night. She leapt out of bed, grabbed the dasher from the churn, and stalked out into the night, hunting whatever had spooked her horses. Surely, she was being silly, she thought, Randall would have taken care of it by the time she got out there, but she went anyway, determined to do something. As she drew closer to the barn, she was struck by a very unpleasant smell, almost sulphuric and coppery. Morrigan cautiously entered the barn through the partly open door, and nearly vomited at the sights she was presented with — every animal in the building had been torn apart and heaped in the center of the floor. Panicked, she called out for Randall. There was no answer. Caution aside, she ran to the ladder and climbed up to the loft. There lay Randall, mangled in a way that left no doubt as to his death. Beside him, nailed gruesomely to the floor with Randall’s table knife, lay something so horrible, Morrigan could not name it. She stood frozen and staring at the carnage until dawn, when her brother found her and the wreckage.
"I have to go," she said, hollowly.
He nodded, and began to gather Randall’s belongings. He would miss her, yes, but she was right, she had to go. She had to destroy the responsible party before he learned of her existance, or she would be found…like this.
It was with many tears and fond farewells that Morrigan took up Randall’s old satchel full of books and maps, and set out on the road, in the direction from which he had come, that fateful day.
Padraig just stared for a moment. "Gwythyr’s eyes, that’s a nasty business you come from!" He paused "Can I get you some more soup?"
She nodded halfheartedly, and he was quick to oblige.
"Of course, you’ll stay here tonight. Nevermind the barn, I’ll find you a blanket or two and you can sleep by the fire." He looked sympathetically at her, "You poor thing…I hope you get every last one of those fatherless sons of whores and burn their eyes out!" He scowled meaningfully towards the door, as she quickly ate her soup.
Padraig found some blankets for his guest, and wished her goodnight, as he wandered off to his own bed, and dreams of the wild places in the world, places he painted, but had yet to see.
Down the Road a Piece
Padraig awoke early — too early, he thought — with an adventurous delirium in his heart. All his life, he’d been here, in Cambry, among people who weren’t his kind and didn’t know him for what he was. It struck him that as much as he loved Libby, who’d raised him like her own, he’d never known his parents, or even which one of them had been the fiend responsible for his inhuman appearance. This was it, then; now was the perfect time to make his disappearance. He wondered if Morrigan would mind a companion on her travels, since he had no idea where to begin his.
With a yawn and a stretch, Padraig got out of bed and began packing. Clothes, blankets, paints and paper — his mind raced as he tried to list all the essential things, and get them packed up. He wondered how he’d carry it all, but the thought passed in a moment as he remembered that the cross old mule in the barn was good for something besides eating too much and looking sideways at him. He laughed aloud, giddy at the thought of leaving Cambry, and Morrigan stirred in the corner.
"Morning?" It was almost a question, almost a greeting. She looked so fetching, all muzzy and rumpled from sleep, that Padraig’s breath caught in his chest. He mumbled something incoherent as she yawned and rubbed her eyes.
Morrigan got up and looked around curiously. "Moving?" she asked, looking surprisedly at Padraig, "Not that I blame you in the least, given your circumstances…" She gave a sympathetically ironic smile.
Padraig, caught a bit off guard, fumbled with his answer. "Well, I was — I mean to say I hoped — er, I can’t be…" he paused, gesturing helplessly, "I want to go with you." A moment of silence stood between them. "I want to at least pretend that I am seeking my origins; I want to see new things and paint the world as it is, instead of how I imagine it…Most of all, I want to leave this place behind me, so that I may be what I am in peace."
She looked appraisingly at him. "Well, you’ve certainly packed a bonny bit of shite," she said, with just a touch of surprise, "How do you propose we carry it all?"
He led her out to the barn with a smile and revealed his surprise: a rickety old donkey cart, and a crotchety mule to pull it. Morrigan stared awkwardly for a moment, not believing the old animal was up to any such thing, but after a bit of convincing, the bastard thing proved its worth and its temperament, and they began packing up for the journey. It was agreed that they would walk with the mule instead of riding in the cart, so that it wouldn’t get any rebellious ideas, and shortly thereafter, they were on the road.
As the two set forth from Cambry in the early morning light, there was not a cloud to be seen on the horizon, and both felt a certain relief, Morrigan was no longer alone, and Padraig existed for the very first time. As they passed the last house on the edge of town, Padraig stopped for a moment and stepped around the cart. Morrigan was quite curious when he asked for a knife, and listened fascinatedly to his swearing and the occasional tearing sound. As Padraig stepped back around the cart and returned her knife, Morrigan noticed his long tail draped over his arm. He turned around and giddily pointed out the shoddy modification he’d made to his pants, in order that he might finally proudly wear his long, prehensile tail. Morrigan clapped and giggled, and they were on their way again.
Despite sleeping by the side of the road, their frivolity lasted well into the third day of their travels. On that third afternoon, they heard faint breaths of music in the air, from somewhere up ahead. Inquisitive and fascinated, they quietly crept around the bends of the road, or at least as quietly as one can creep with a donkey cart, until they were surrounded by the thin sound. Stumped, the two travellers looked around them for some sign of the hidden music. At last, rolling her eyes in frustration, Morrigan caught a glimpse of something in the tree they stood beneath. Closer study showed the vague shape to be an elf, lying back upon a branch, eyes closed, dressed in black, and playing a violin. Morrigan quietly pointed him out to Padraig, whose eyes widened in amazement. Lazily and gracefully, the elf rolled into a sitting position, one leg crossed over the other, hands on the branch at his sides.
"I wondered," he laughed, quietly, "how long it would take you to notice."
Padraig and Morrigan just stared a moment, awed. Then, gathering his wits, Padraig spoke: "Where are you on the road to, Sir Elf?"
"I am on my way to Cambry town to restock my supplies before I go back on the hunt," he replied with a perturbing smile. "I have seen no town for many months. And you?"
"We go where this road goes," Morrigan stated solemnly, a sudden weight upon her.
The elf slid from the tree, gently touching the ground next to Morrigan. "You are troubled, little sister," he observed, "You are on the road of vengeance, I think." She nodded. "It is not an easy road; I follow it as well. There is much death to be dealt in the cards ahead of you, and I believe you have yet to begin dealing from that deck." Again, with a surprised look, Morrigan nodded. Padraig stood by looking shocked, and somewhat uncertain. The elf spoke again, "I am a master at the games of that deck; they keep me entertained and provided for, but still, I lack something. There is no pavement I follow, just the road in my heart; let me walk a ways with you, little sister, your pain calls to me."
Morrigan was afraid. She felt her mouth grow dry, and her hands grow wet. She looked over at Padraig, hoping for some sort of sign, but he was frozen and unreadable. Slowly, relief washed over her as she realised that the elf meant her no harm. If he had, she reasoned, he’d have killed her before she saw him. Well, if he was a hunter, then they would never lack for meat. "What is your name, hunter?" She turned her chin up, and looked the elf in the eye.
"My name I keep to myself, but I am called al’El’lome, the Dark Star." He bowed slightly, and fixed his eyes to the ground.
Morrigan held her hand out to him. "I am Morrigan," she said, firmly, "and this is Padraig. You are welcome to walk with us in trade for meat and music. You play very well, Darkstar." Padraig gasped and looked horrifiedly at Morrigan. She turned to him, "You have something to say, tiefling? You know what they’d have said about you; give him a chance."
Padraig fell into contemplative silence, and El’lome knelt and drew a long knife from what seemed to be thin air. "I do not know why," he said, laying the knife and violin across his forearms, "but for now what is mine is yours, Lady. We are together for a time for a reason, though only the stars and the stones know why." She touched his forehead with her fingers and smiled.
When Morrigan looked up again, Padraig had pulled some apples and ham out of the supplies, and was avidly digging for a pan. She walked over to the cart and retrieved one, out from under his struggles. He looked from Morrigan to El’lome a few times, open mouthed. "How did you know where that was? I’ve been digging for it for minutes, now!" El’lome held up a hand and laughed. "Women," he said, raising an eyebrow at Padraig, "They have strange magic."
The three sat down to a light meal of fried ham and apples, over which their stories were exchanged, for one should always know the makings of the people one lunches with. After much eating and joking and telling of tales, they were on the road again.
Anderry Inne, But Not Out Again
Moghendhim Tathar’an was a kitchen slave. His skin was as dark as that of any other drow, his hair as pale, and his features as fine, yet, unlike his kin, he was a slave in the world of men. Sixteen years ago, the owner of the Anderry Inne had won him in a game of silver queens; his father had been a gambling man, and on a whim, bet his firstborn son. Moghendhim wasn’t bitter about it, or at least he told himself he wasn’t but it ate at him in ways that the other folk working in the inne could see. Old Kerrel, the cook, still crossed herself and spit when she passed him in the passages, convinced that he was evil incarnate, and by his attitude, he might as well have been. Only Bronwyn seemed to like him, and he was, at best, wary of her. She liked to sing while she worked, and there wasn’t an animal or a drunk who wasn’t calmed by her hands; Bronwyn had a strange magic about her, and he didn’t like the feel of it one bit. He grudgingly admitted that he owed her his life for the time she’d cured him of Red Fever, but frankly, he wished that she’d have let him die. Dead, he’d no longer be a slave, but it was dishonour to take his own life. Besides, now not only was he owned by a lesser creature, but he owed his life to one. To Moghendhim, a pale skin usually covered a pale mind, and thusly, he kept to himself and silently did his work.
The Anderry Inne was the only lodging place in the village of Anderry-on-Orin, and it was usually more full in the pub than in the rooms. Few travellers came through Anderry except for bands of minstrels who’d taken the left instead of the right fork at Merril, and the occasional troop of soldiers being transferred out to the hill country. The pub was full of locals, then, when the three strange wanderers came in, backlit by the early evening light. Moghendhim could see their silhouettes in the door, and his ears laid back a bit at the sight. One had what looked to be a tail, one was tall and smelled like an enemy, and one was barely chest high. Elf, he thought, an elf, his fiend wife, and their child. Then they stepped in, and he saw them as they were. He gasped inadvertantly, and the darkish elf’s ear twitched, but the halfling girl looked at him like she could read his soul. I know you, her eyes said, and he felt a strange pull in his heart; the young drow nearly discarded his pride and crawled across the straw to lay out his heart and beg her forgiveness for all he had done wrong in his life, but the tiefling boy slid his arm around her, and she broke the bond with Moghendhim to smile at him. Moghendhim was shaking and sweating as he began viciously peeling another potato. He didn’t know the newcomers, nor did he want to; he wanted them out of the inne and on their way. That girl was dangerous, and the elf stank of blood. "Bronwyn," he called down the hall, careful to keep the quaver in his heart from his voice, "You have real customers!"
Bronwyn Greenhands came swishing and twirling out of the back room, singing an old lay about some long forgotten king. Her gold hair was in two braids which hung neatly over her shoulders. She smiled and greeted the three travellers, welcoming them to the inne, and offering food and drink. She didn’t even look twice at the tiefling’s tail.
Padraig, being the tiefling in question, noticed that she hadn’t blinked at the sight of him. He also noticed the lovely low cut of her dress. Morrigan pinched him sharply as she settled rooms and dinner with Bronwyn. El’lome looked distracted, but not by Bronwyn’s breasts. He was brooding about something, and Morrigan hoped it wasn’t last night’s misunderstanding. El’lome had left them at about sundown, and wandered into the wood with just a knife. When she and Padraig had settled for the night, El’lome returned with a pair of rabbits which they could have for breakfast. Later in the night, Morrigan woke and saw El’lome counting out a set of purses. She’d called him a cutthroat, accused him of being a highwayman. He had looked up with a murderous gleam and denied it, explaining that there were three less bandits in the world than there had been that afternoon. Then he reconsidered; perhaps that did make him a highwayman, but they wouldn’t be waylaid the next day. She had given it some serious thought, and he watched her with dead eyes. In the end, she decided that she was grateful, and wrapped her arms around him and apologised. He’d kissed her on the head, and told her all was well, and she should go back to bed, but now, with him brooding, she wondered if all was, in fact, well.
Morrigan came to her senses as Bronwyn set great bowls of food in front of them. When the woman returned with the ale, Morrigan invited her to sit and eat with them. Bronwyn considered nervously for a moment and then agreed, plunking down on a bench between Padraig and El’lome. Bright-eyed and breathless, she asked about them and how they’d come to the little backwater town, and they gave her a slightly edited version of the journey so far, leaving out those things that were too personal or irrelevant to tell to a gossipy barmaid. And when they had finished, Bronwyn told the story of how she’d been raised in the inne with Moghendhim for a brother…
Bronwyn Greenhands was born to a loving father and a mother who died in childbirth. Her first six years were spent as most young girls spend time, playing in the fields with her father and learning about the plants that grew there. In the spring, her father often went travelling to purchase rare herbs, and she would stay with her uncle, the innkeeper, and in her sixth year, his adopted son Moghendhim. That year, her father never returned from his purchasing expedition, and no word was ever recieved as to his end. Bronwyn harbored a secret hope that he was in a dungeon somewhere, the prisoner of some evil king, and that someday she would rescue him, and they would live happily ever after. But, until that day, she lived with her unmarried uncle Joram, who was always distracted, and his drow child.
When Bronwyn turned ten, Joram decided she was old enough to watch the baby, who was now four, and to keep young Moghendhim out of trouble. Bronwyn did her best, but Moghendhim had already learned the prejudices of his people. He wouldn’t eat what she ate, or when she ate, and his response to any question he was asked was, ‘Because I’m better than you!’ Bronwyn was shocked the first time she heard this response, and demanded to know where he had learned such a thing. Moghendhim proudly replied that he’d learned it fom his mother. Bronwyn reminded him that he didn’t have a mother, but the boy insisted that his mother came in the night and taught him the ways of his kind. Somehow, Bronwyn didn’t doubt it; it was whispered by the kitchen staff that drow magic was strange and dark, and it was best to stand aside and see none of it. But, Bronwyn would not give him up as hopeless. She taught him the ways of her kind, and insisted he use them in her presence, or she would refuse to acknowledge him. After a week of being locked in a room with her, he learned to comply. She reminded him again and again that she was trying to protect him from folk who would see how different he was and try to kill him in fear.
When Moghendhim was quietly amusing himself elsewhere, Bronwyn studied her father’s books, and learned the secrets of herbs and trees. She learned to treat all the ailments of the household from his codices, and could make some silver treating the soldiers who passed through, and patching up after pub fights. She put together phials of treatment for hangovers and allergies and other common things, and began selling them over the bar while she wasn’t busy with Moghendhim’s schooling.
At Joram’s request, Bronwyn took over the day to day workings of the pub when she turned sixteen, and Moghendhim, now twelve, was relegated to low level kitchen jobs, peeling potatoes and hauling water for folk with whom he had mutual dislike. Bronwyn prospered, and Moghendhim festered. Word spread through town that a night or two at the inne would cure all ills, and Bronwyn did her best to make that true. There were few things that went around the town that her herbiary could not cure. As time went by, her dark brother was all but forgotten by the town. Bronwyn never noticed that after a while they stopped asking bout him, and Moghendhim was happier without the attention. He didn’t need them; someday his mother would return, and rescue him from this place. Or so he told Bronwyn.
Then, rather suddenly, Moghendhim became ill. His eyes grew dull as the fever rose, and after a few days, blisters appeared on his skin. Bronwyn tried everything she knew, but nothing made him any better. The disease progressed steadily for weeks as Bronwyn furiously read through her father’s notes. Finally, just as she was prepared to give up and start mixing corpse powders, she found a small footnote to a strange herb, which referenced the disease she suspected she was treating: it was called the red fever. Searching through her father’s things, which still lived in her room, she discovered a small jar in the false bottom of a trunk that contained the special herb, and a small note. "Bronwyn, my dearest, may you never need this." She followed the instructions, and brewed a tea which she poured into Moghendhim’s slack mouth. Within hours, his eyes were clear, and he was free of fever.
Moghendhim never forgave her for saving his life. It was better to die than be enslaved to a lesser race, he often said. Nonetheless, Bronwyn was proud of herself, and continued in her usual fashion, selling beer and curing ills, right up to the day she sat down with the travellers from afar.