Part I: Imegesis
Exordium: Passing Away
11th Month, 4th Night, 4,631st Year
Copyright © 1999 C.E. by Dustin Jon Scott
[Last Update: 2003-ish]
The Sun had set on the Barrows of Graelark, leaving the morbid pall of dusk in wake as the day had finally waned to twilight. Thus had also set the day of Larissa Rowan, a woman stripped of her mortal coil, raped of her destiny; a woman whom the Fates of Urd had never rightly beckoned. In her wake were those she loved, and those that loved her, and those bits of themselves they sent with her beyond the veil and into the Worlds Awaiting. And so white-clothed kin and clansmen gathered both to celebrate and to mourn, to honor and lament she without whom their hearts now seemed hollowed of joys, who was reft from them so savagely. Everywhere save that place in the heart wherein Larissa Rowan still dwelt, it seemed could only be filled by the list to gaze upon her once more; this longing foremost in the hearts of those two kindred who survived her, and knew of her death.
The first of these was her widower, Isaac Rowan, who stood at the alter whereupon her body rested, looking over the empty husk that once was she. There it lay, a body still more beautiful than any he’d ever seen. Inwardly he drifted back to that night she was taken from him, when the raiders attacked Graelark Hamlet. Isaac relived that night each time his eyes drifted closed. He dreamt it into new being each time he slumbered.
In shroud of night they’d rushed upon the city, cloaked in shadow, seizing the hamlet before a single scream could be upborne. Evil, nocturnal abominations of Elves those wretched things; such as a creature would have to be to terrorize the destitute in such horrid a manner as they. They cared naught for whomever they would’ve harmed -- adult or child, woman or were. Whenever Isaac slept he could see their pale, nigh colorless faces, their blood-red eyes, and their obsidian-black hair. The ancient Scandians called them the Dokkaelfar, to the Celts they were known as the Daoi-Sith, but most folk simply called them Drow or Dark Elves.
Amongst their victims was Isaac’s wife, stricken by a poisoned dart. For her, Death was a patient fellow, and he tarried his time as a vulture awaiting the course of fate to fell his prey; his shadow upon her at those times she was weakest. The poison was not so kind. Larissa lingered on for weeks with the necrotoxin devouring her from within, as friend and neighbor alike quested afar in the foreign Emerald Forest of Faelore to search for a rare plant that’s sap was said to contain the only thing to mend her blight.
After the fourth week a party had finally returned with that which could’ve cured Larissa of the insidious Drow poison, if only they’d been a few moments earlier. They tried of course to hight her back, pouring the sap into her mouth, hoping she’d take breath once more and awaken unto life. But their attempts were in vain. There was no magickal cure for Larissa Rowan, and no mystical return from beyond the veil, for naught was left of her that hour but an empty lich, and there was no lyblaca that could change Death’s bid.
And so there stood Isaac, leaning over what remained of his wife, cursing the Gods Themselves in silent blaspheme.
There stood Isaac, wondering for what he had left to live, if he could even go on and endure this despair that it seemed would bury his heart with her. For a moment it seemed there was nought left for him in this world.
And then, beside him, there was Jadia.
Gently the fair young redhead put a hand on her father’s shoulder, and as she did, looked deeply into his eyes, as if searching quietly for a thing that could ease the pain inside of him, not knowing she’d already found it. And deeply he peered back into her eyes, and in their emerald shimmer was his solace -- whatever of it could be for him on this dire eventide.
“Hey dad, are you alright?” she asked, smiling sweetly to her father, hoping to evoke from within him something more than dole and tears.
“Yeah,” her father replied, nodding his head as he somehow mustered a smile. Thus to Jadia’s delight, and she embraced her father warmly as he took her into his arms. “I knew you’d make it.”
“I wasn’t sure if I would in time,” said Jadia, bating back teardrop. “Luckily I was just over in Ravenshire, or I wouldn’t have gotten word in time to be here this evening.”
“Have I told you lately just how much you look like your mother?” asked Isaac as he and his daughter released one another, each still loosely holding the other’s hands.
“Only every time we see each other,” replied Jadia, the smile warm and brighten upon her face, though her eyes betrayed her sorrow. “Mom always said having me around was like looking into a mirror. Though I doubt anyone would argue that I inherited my red hair and green eyes by you. Not to mention that I’ve quite a few more freckles than mom ever had.”
Isaac returned his daughter’s smile.
Now seventeen years of age, Jadia looked almost exactly as her mother had in her youth. The Gods had favored Jadia with the same tith build as her mother, and the same youthful face. A relentless qualm for her father, the years had also wrought Jadia’s figure with the same generous hindquarters and breasts of unkent size and sphery that her mother had been granted as well. Never a day had gone by since Jadia’s thirteenth year of age that Isaac didn’t fret over what sorts of licentious dastards might’ve been stalking about his all too beautiful girl.
His fatherly concerns were helped none-aye by the manner whereunto his daughter was wont to dress. Even tonight of all nights, Jadia had clad herself in a tight linen blouse cut off to scarsely cover her bust, with bag sleeves and squared low-cut neckline, and a pair of billowy, offensively low-risen Aegyptian sarouelles. Her choice of clothing left little to be imagined and much to be desired, though at least she’d dressed with the traditional white in honor of her late mother.
Then Isaac remembered his other daughter, one he found himself thinking of less as the seasons turned year on next; a thing for which he could not excuse himself, far less forgive.
“It’s a shame that Kyra couldn’t be here,” said Isaac, his tone forlorn. “Have you gotten any leads on where she might be?”
“No,” replied Jadia, shaking her head as she wiped a tear from her cheek. “I honestly haven’t been able to ken whither to start searching. I’ve thought I was so close at times, and then nothing. There were times I felt like giving up simply because I didn’t feel as though it was leading anywhere. Just the same old rumors of a girl who looks like me but with darker hair and pointed ears. But then, I think: how could it be anyone but Kyra?”
“I’ve no idea,” said Isaac. “There couldn’t be many women in this world that look much like you and your mother, otherwise no one would so clearly remember seeing this elusive ‘other girl’ as to recall whether or not she looked like you. And if many women in this world much looked like you or your mother, those poachers never would’ve mistook her for a Wood Nymph that day in the forest, I never would’ve met her, and you never would’ve even been born. I’d say there’s more than a fair chance it’s her.”
“You’re right.” Jadia sighed, looking down upon her mother’s lich in remembrance of the woman that once had dwelt within it. “I just wish I knew why this had to happen.”
“As I,” agreed Isaac. “I managed to contact Rylen and Llaralynn, they’re here right now. Lodin and Alyssandra should be coming as well.”
Jadia let out a sigh. “I suppose I should go talk to them.”
“I’ll be right here,” said Isaac.
With that Jadia turned and walked into the crowd of pale-clad mourners, their garments yellowed by the orange light of torches surrounding the wood-bound barrow. Somewhat quelled was her search by her being a mere five and quarter feet in height, lesser of most who were there. Still she looked, her eyes drifting from each person to the next, from right to left and near thither through the crowd, hoping to catch a glimpse of those two she sought amid so many a man and maid. This was made none easier by the mourners’ dress, bedighten almost identically in white as they were, men with and coats, women with bodices and blouses, and all in breaches.
After sorting through the keening host for a short time, she spotted at wood’s edge a female Wood Elf with bobbed, ebon hair, and a blonde half-Elven male escorting her.
Jadia waived to them, but they hadn’t seen her. With the slightest tinge of ire she began to ponder just how unseemly it’d be to give a quick shout. She snapped her fingers in attempt to draw their attention, however to no avail.
“Llara, Riley!” she shouted, somewhat startling them as they turned sharply to face her. She went apace to greet them, embracing Llaralynn before the Sylvan Elf could even speak a word. Llara, who herself was not nearly so outward in affections as Jadia, returned the embrace stiffly, patting her friend on the back as if unsure of what to do.
“How’re you doing?” asked Llara, as Jadia released her from their enclasp.
“Alright, considering the circumstances,” said Jadia, turning to hug Rylen, who held her warmly in effort to console. “Where’s Will?”
“Back in Idlestone,” explained Rylen. “Someone had to stay at home.”
“Toren and Sarahbeth are here,” injected Llara, as Riley and Jadia unlinked, “so are Rioric and Crystane. Lodin and Alyssandra should be here shortly.”
“What about Jonathan and Lorena?” asked Jadia.
“Alyssandra’s parents?” said Llara. “I’m not sure if they’ll manage to make it. Sarahbeth said something about your father asking Jon to perform the eulogy, but that’s as much as I know. Your father would probably know.”
“I don’t think he does,” said Jadia.
“There’s Rioric and Crystane,” said Riley. “They might know.”
Jadia looked to where Rylen pointed. “I’m going to go greet them, I’ll be back in a few minutes,” said Jadia, and strode off toward Rioric and Crystane.
“Rioric, Crystane!” Jadia shouted, catching their attention.
The couple turned to greet Jadia as she approached them.
“Are you alright?” said Crystane.
“As well as could be expected,” Jadia replied.
“How’s your father?” said Rioric.
“I think he’s handling it fairly well,” said Jadia. “He’s at the altar right now, if you’d like to speak with him.”
Rioric began to walk away, making his way to the front of the crowd.
“My son should be here shortly, with Alyssandra,” said Crystane.
“So how’s Lodin been fairing as a paladin since his induction?” asked Jadia.
“Very well, actually,” replied Crystane, “Though he hasn’t been scheduled for his first campaign yet.”
“Has Lodin asked Alyssandra to be handfasted yet?” Jadia inquired.
“Not yet,” said Crystane, “though I’m of the impression that it’s only a matter of time. They seem to be very much in love. If you ask me, I think my son’ll propose to her after she’s initiated into the Priesthood.”
“So her dedication’s still going well?”
“You might want to ask Jonathan and Lorena,” said Crystane, “but from what Lodin tells me, Alyssandra will be a full-fledged Priestess as of the New Year, unless she does something horribly wrong in the next three months. Barring that, she’ll officially become a Witch on the night of Samhain.”
“Are Jonathan and Lorena here now?” Jadia asked.
“They should be,” replied Crystane. “Jonathan’s delivering your mother’s eulogy.”
“He is?” said Jadia
“Didn’t your father tell you?”
Jadia shook her head. “No, but he told me that Llara and Riley were here, and he said Lodin and Alyssandra would be coming. Then when I spoke to Llara and Riley, they knew you and Rioric would be here, but they didn’t know if Jonathan or Lorena would be able to make it.”
“Well I’m not sure what to say about Llara, or Riley, but I suppose your father’s just preoccupied with the ritual,” said Crystane. “I’m sure it helps to have you here. And knowing my husband, he may even have your father laughing at the end of the night.”
Jadia smiled slightly. “Rioric can cheer anyone up. He’s a good man. I can see why my mother loved the two of you so much.” Crystane smiled back at Jadia. “It’s no wonder Lodin grew up to be such an honorable young man,” said Jadia. “I can’t conceive of how anyone could grow up with you and Rioric for parents and not grow up to be a good person.”
“Well thank you, Jadia, it really means a lot to me to hear you say that,” said Crystane. “Your mother and Isaac have always meant a lot to us as well. I just wish you and I could’ve gotten to know each other better.”
“Even though I’m a self-admitted thief?” Jadia queried.
“Well, you know, when the people of Gaia had forgotten the Old Ways, the rich and powerful began to oppress the poor. Many poor people had to resort to thievery in order to survive, and many slaves slew their oppressors and fled into the Alban hills near Lake Nemi in what’s now the Kingdom of Stregheria. When Aradia came down from the Heavens, it was to teach the Old Religion to the thieves and assassins, to give them true freedom, so that they wouldn’t have to steal or kill any longer. So even though Witches comprise a sort of aristocracy or nobility today, and paladins often try to distance themselves from thieves, there are a few of us who understand and have compassion for what sort of life a person must’ve had to make her resort to thievery. Even here in Béowyn, where we have an Aradian theocracy keeping the capitalist monarchy in check, the poor are still oppressed to some degree. When it comes right down to it, most paladins -- especially Rioric and Lodin -- as defenders of the Aradian faith, would sooner put a sword to the throat of a rich man who abuses his wealth than a poor man who’s resorted to living as a thief.”
“I suppose that’s why you never objected to Lodin spending so much time with me, or Riley or Llara or William for that matter,” said Jadia.
“Well the Paladin Camp in Hathor is always there to help Lodin and my husband and I if we are ever in need of financial assistance,” said Crystane, “and the Aradian Council in Stregheria will always do whatever they can to make sure their Witches are well taken care of. But your parents aren’t exactly wealthy, and they don’t have the luxury of being able to receive monetary aid from the paladins or the priesthood. The same goes for Riley’s parents. I know that a lot of what you steal goes to help your families, and I know that you only pick the pockets of expensive coats, so to speak. And I know if the opportunity were to ever arise for you to make a good living for yourselves and your families without having to steal from others, you’d do it in the blink of an eye. You’re a good, honorable woman, Jadia. Don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise.”
“You’re right,” said Jadia, “It’s just that mom always made me feel so horrible for doing what I do. I mean she appreciated the money that it brought in for the family, but she always told me it was wrong, that I needed to find a better way to live.”
“Jadia, your mother loved you immensely,” said Crystane. “It’s only because of my conversations with her and my son that I know you, Riley, Llara, and William are such virtuous people. She only wanted you to have a better life. She wanted you to be able to make a living in some way that wouldn’t just eventually land you in the stocks. She never, ever believed you were a wicked person. Neither do I, neither does my husband, and neither do Jonathan and Lorena. All your mother ever wanted, and all the rest of us want, is just for you kids to be able to have a safe and normal life.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Jadia spotted two figures moving toward her and Crystane. When she turned to see who they were, she saw a tall, muscular man with a long mane of silken black hair, wearing a white, long-sleeved tunic and surcoat, along with a pair of white trousers, white leather boots, and white gloves. The other figure was an elegant blonde woman with large brown eyes, wearing a white ceremonial robe; a flowing, pallid mantle with long bell-sleeves trimmed in silver.
“Lodin, Alyssandra!” Jadia exclaimed, smiling ear to ear as the couple approached.
“We came as soon as we heard the news,” said Lodin.
“Jadia, are you alright?” said Alyssandra.
“Well, I suppose I’m doing as well as should be expected,” Jadia replied.
“Hi, mom,” said Lodin, turning to Crystane and giving her a warm hug. “Where’s dad?”
“He’s up at the altar visiting with Isaac,” said Crystane.
Alyssandra leaned forward to hug Jadia, and the two held each other tenderly as Lodin and his mother did the same.
“Well, I need to get back to Riley and Llara,” said Jadia, releasing Alyssandra. “I’m sure they’d be pleased to see the two of you.”
“We might as well start making the rounds...” said Lodin. “I’ll be back, mom.”
Jadia, Lodin, and Alyssandra walked away from Crystane and began making their way back to where Jadia had last seen Llara, Riley, and Tif.
“So I hear your father’s delivering the eulogy?” Jadia asked Alyssandra.
“That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” said Alyssandra. “As soon as Lodin and I found out that Larissa had passed, we just sort of picked up and left that day.”
Lodin nodded his head in agreement. “We weren’t even sure Jonathan or Lorena would be here. We just ran into Toren and Sarahbeth a few minutes ago, and they told us.”
“I haven’t had a chance to greet Riley’s parents yet,” said Jadia.
“They’re over speaking with Lorena right now,” said Lodin.
“What about Jonathan?” Jadia asked.
“I would expect my father’s getting himself ready for the ceremony, if he’s the one delivering the eulogy,” said Alyssandra.
“Lodin!” Riley exclaimed as Jadia, Lodin, and Alyssandra approached.
“Alyssandra! How’ve you been?” Llara said.
“We’ve been well, though I really wish we could’ve been here under better circumstances,” said Alyssandra.
“How’ve you been, Riley?” asked Lodin. “Are you and Llara still an item?”
“Of course,” said Riley, looking over at Llara.
“How’ve you been doing, Tif?” Alyssandra inquired.
“Good,” said Tif, sitting on Llara’s shoulder. “It’s been months since I’ve seen you two. What’ve you been doing?”
“Well,” said Alyssandra, smiling proudly, “my Lodin has finally become a paladin, and I’m less than three months from my initiation.”
“Well I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say ‘good luck’,” said Riley.
“Thanks, I’ll need it.” Alyssandra smiled. “Say a prayer to the Red Goblin for me.”
“I just realized I told my father I’d be back in a few moments,” said Jadia. “I should go see how he’s doing....”
Just then, a small bell began to ring. The sound was coming from the direction of the altar. Everyone had stepped back as the Witch, Jonathan Foxley, took his place before the altar to deliver the eulogy. The bell stopped, and everyone was silent.