Part I: Imegesis
2nd Month, 5th Night, 4,632nd Year
Copyright © 1999 C.E. by Dustin Jon Scott
[Last Update: 2003-ish]
It was a relatively warm, sunny afternoon. Though the trees were still bare, their buds were becoming clearly visible with a mere thirteen days left until Ostara, the vernal equinox. Most of the sky was overcast, though a break in the clouds shone brightly down through the hazy air, reflecting almost blindingly off of the damp, muddy ground and the long-dead leaves that had remained unscathed on the forest floor thanks to the preserving effects of a snow-filled winter. Though the heat from the sun was irrefutably and pleasingly warm, the air itself was cool, and filled with a light, misty drizzle.
Rylen leaned tightly against a tree, hiding behind it as he listened carefully to the clicking, clacking, and slapping of horses’ hooves upon the somewhat muddy road that snakes through this quadrant of Hyllbriar Forest. His keen half-Elven ear intently studied the sounds he heard as he began to detect the faint squeak of two axels, and the smooth, low hum of track ways being depressed into the soft topsoil by four distinct wheels.
“A carriage, heavy load, two horses,” Rylen whispered as he readied his short bow.
William, across the road, hiding behind yet another tree, began to sniff at the air.
“Two male humans, if none are inside the carriage,” the half-Ogre whispered back to Rylen as he tightened the grip on his double-headed war axe in his right hand and choked up on the handle of his warhammer in his left. The half-Human Ogre’s great size and strength allowed him to use both weapons, which most pure-bred Humans would find awkward wielding with both hands, with just one hand each.
Both thieves turned their attention upward, to Llaralynn, who strolled casually along the length of a thin tree branch directly above the road. Llaralynn crouched for a moment, then stood up, and walked back to the base of the branch itself. She then began her descent down from the tree in a manner that neither Rylen nor William ever tired of seeing; she simply walked down the trunk of the tree as though it were a horizontal surface, the same manner in which all Wood Elves are able to move in their arboreal climes. Even her hair and clothing behaved as though the pull of gravity were coming not from the ground below, but from the tree instead.
Once she arrived at the ground next to Rylen, she reached over her shoulder and removed her repeating crossbow from its holster on her back. She took a wooden box magazine from her belt and loaded into the crossbow, lifting the cocking lever and then forcing it back down again, in turn drawing back the crossbow’s string within the wooden groove.
“One of them is armed with a musket,” Llaralynn whispered.
“And the other?” asked Rylen.
“The other one doesn’t appear to be armed.”
“Quiet,” Rylen whispered, “they’re getting close.”
Llaralynn, Rylen, and William waited there by the broad dirt path, listening as the stagecoach drew nearer by the moment.
They waited until finally the carriage had come almost upon them before dashing out into the road.
The carriage driver pulled back on the reins and the horses slowed to a stop as Rylen readied his short bow. Llaralynn had her repeating crossbow aimed carefully at the musketeer, and William held ready both his double-ended war axe and warhammer.
“Use your musket!” the driver shouted. Of course, the musketeer had his weapon held tightly and crossways against his chest, and would have to take aim before he could fire.
“Try it and die, musketeer,” said Rylen, with his arrow aimed between the man’s eyes. “All I have to do is let go.”
Suddenly, Llaralynn saw the door on the carriage’s right side swing open.
“Bloody thieves!” exclaimed Jadia, climbing out of the coach.
“Now that’s the pot calling the Sacred Herb green,” said Llaralynn, putting her crossbow back into its holster as she walked up to her fiery-haired friend.
“Jadia!” Rylen shouted, placing his bow and arrow back into the quiver strapped to his back as he ran around to meet Jadia, following Llaralynn’s lead.
“I’ve got my eye on you,” William warned the musketeer, pointing the head of his warhammer at him as he slowly went around the carriage to greet Jadia.
“We weren’t expecting you,” said Llaralynn, opening her arms to Jadia.
“Obviously,” Jadia replied, embracing the Wood Elf. “I’ve got something to show you.”
Another young woman, wholly identical to Jadia in almost every respect, emerged from the car. Her hair was a dark brown highlighted in front with streaks of blonde, her eyes were blue, she had no freckles, and she had points on her ears that protruded just slightly through her hair, but was in no other respect distinguishable from her redheaded traveling companion.
“Kyra?” Rylen asked.
“No, my name’s Gail. Abigail Renee Rowan.”
“It’s a long story,” said Jadia. “I’ll fill you all in once we get back to the house.”
Just then there was a loud boom, a cloud of smoke, and William was dropped to the ground.
The driver stood to his feet and pulled a small badge from his pocket.
“Thank you for taking me to your secret hideaway,” he said. “In the name of the Court of Law of the Kingdom of Béowyn, I hereby place you all under arrest!”
William stood up almost immediately, his bearskin tunic with a large hole torn into it and his skin beneath covered in powder burns. A small lead pellet was imbedded slightly into the thick Ogren skin of his right shoulder, with just the slightest hint of blood around it.
Rylen shook his head disapprovingly as the musketeer scrambled to reload his flintlock, pouring some of his gunpowder from a cartridge and into the bore, but spilling most of it. He was so utterly shocked that William had returned to his feet so quickly, that he unwittingly cut himself on his own bayonet.
Rylen very casually pulled out his short bow and a single arrow, and shot the musketeer between the eyes before he’d even managed to place the wadding into the bore.
The carriage driver leaped from the springseat bench of the stagecoach and attempted to escape, running between William, Llaralynn, Rylen, Jadia, and Gail. William reached out with his right arm and grabbed the bailiff by his shoulder, and with one hand flung him high into the forest’s canopy.
Several hundred feet away, the man came crashing out of the trees and plummeted to the ground, disappearing behind some bushes before impacting with a resounding ‘thud’ which frightened a flock of birds into the air.
“Nice throw,” said Gail.
“Would’ve been better if I hadn’t just been shot in my throwing arm,” William complained.
Gail began squinting as the glare from the damp foliage started to bother her eyes. She reached into her pocket and removed a pair of darkly stained spectacles and put them on, shielding her eyes from the harsh rays of the sun.
“So,” said Jadia, “does anyone know how to drive a coach?”
* * *
Back at the house, Gail set her backpack and cloak on the chair just inside the door as Jadia, Llaralynn, and Rylen took their seats at the long, slightly rotten table in the living room.
Gail took a moment to scan what she could see of the house. The voluminous yet somewhat crowded living room seemed to function also as a dining room, kitchen, and a bedroom as well, with a great, Ogre-sized bed against the wall left of the door, a smaller bed in either corner of that wall, and a birdcage in the corner furthest from the door, on the opposite wall from the beds. To the right were two dressers on either side of a wardrobe, which sat against the wall to which the weapon room was adjoined through a small doorway. Directly across from the door was a brick fireplace, where the cooking would be done. The walls themselves appeared somewhat worn, and were made of adobe. The living room, though surprisingly large, was the only room in the house, other than the weapons room, which appeared to be no larger than a wealthy merchant’s pantry.
Despite the small size of the home, it seemed a relatively comfortable dwelling. The roof was made of oak and pitch, rather than having been thatched with straw, the tiny window on each wall had a decorative pane of stained glass, and the small gaps and holes in the wood floor revealed a foundation of brick with straw insulation under the floorboards.
Gail took a seat at the table as William walked through the door, hauling a large burlap bag. He walked up to the table and emptied its contents, overflowing the tabletop with coins of copper, bronze, silver, electrum, yellow gold, white gold, and even platinum.
“That’s quite a wealth the two of you’ve amassed,” said Llaralynn.
“There must be enough there to buy an entire town,” said Rylen.
“There’s four more bags like that in the carriage, and some clothes,” replied Jadia. “We also brought presents for each of you, and some expensive spirits we lifted from a traveling brewer in Candleton.”
“I’m not bringing anything else in,” said William, “my shoulder’s killing me!”
“Will, get that lead pellet out of there and clean out your wound!” Rylen scolded. “I’ve got some garlic cooking in the cauldron, so get yourself a rag, get your arse over to the fireplace, put some hot garlic-water on the rag, and clean your damned hole.”
Gail couldn’t help but chuckle a bit as Rylen mothered the eight and a half foot tall half-Ogre, nor could Jadia. They attempted unsuccessfully to mask their amusement as Rylen looked over at Jadia, then at Gail.
“What’s so damned funny?” Rylen demanded.
“Sorry, Riley,” Jadia apologized as she continued to giggle. “I just keep forgetting that your father’s an apothecary and your mother’s a hedge Witch. You just don’t seem like the nurse type.”
“Damn little half-Elf ... kick his pasty little pansy arse...” William grumbled as he made his way over to the cauldron in the fireplace.
“So, Jadia, Gail’s your half-sister too?” Llaralynn queried.
Jadia nodded her head.
“From what we’ve been able to put together, my mother was captured by poachers who thought she was a Dryad while she was still pregnant with Kyra, and they attempted to sell her on the black market in Béowyn when my father, Isaac, bought her freedom for her. He offered to take care of her, and they were handfasted just before Kyra was born. My mother became Larissa Rowan, and Kyra was named Kyra Denise Rowan. Mom became pregnant again about three months later and eventually had me, but then the war started a little over a year later and mom was basically exiled because of how closely she resembled a Dryad, not to mention all the people who really were of Faerykin descent who were rounded up and driven back into Faelore.”
“We know all of this already,” said Llaralynn.
“Right, but what I never knew, is that while she was in Faelore, she returned to Arlianor to resume her relationship with Aramyn, I think since she probably didn’t know where else to turn and didn’t have any idea as to whether or not she’d ever be able to return home to Kyra and me. She obviously couldn’t tell Aramyn that she’d married, and that some other man was raising the child that should’ve been his, so instead she made up a story about having been taken in by a family in Béowyn and adopting their surname for her own, which is how she got the name ‘Rowan’ -- or so went the story she told Aramyn. And since Aramyn knew she was pregnant when she was captured, she told him she’d had a miscarriage. So she and Aramyn had another child, a little girl named Abigail Renee Rowan, since mom was very adamant that Abby have her last name.
“Anyway, when the Unseelie Court finally took over Faelore in the middle of the war, the kingdom of Béowyn reluctantly allowed a lot of the Faerykin to cross the border as refugees, and mom escaped from Faelore almost a year later during the mass exodus at the end of the war itself. By the time the Neutral Zone had officially been established, mom was safe and secure in Graelark with me, Kyra, and dad, and Aramyn continued to raise Abby and even found a new love, a half-Elven woman named Karianna, who Abby’s always known as her mother.
“Even before Aramyn and Karianna had even met, they’d each decided to stay behind in Faelore to aid the local resistance movement against the Unseelie Court while everyone else fled, which is why Aramyn didn’t leave for Béowyn with mom. Well, that and mom had left quietly during the night because she knew Aramyn would’ve tried to send Abby off with her, and she couldn’t exactly return home to Kyra and dad and me with another child after being gone for nearly two years.
“Then, out of the blue, Abby and I just sort of ran into each other in Candleton a little over three months ago during their Market Day bazaar.”
William, Rylen, and Llaralynn stared at Jadia, uniform among them a look reminiscent of that upon the face of a rather dim Orc to whom a complex alchemic equation had just been presented.
“That’s ... complicated,” said Llaralynn.
“Well, she said it was a long story,” Rylen reminded the Wood Elf.
“I never would’ve guessed your mother was leading a double life like that,” added William, furrowing his brow slightly.
“So, how is it you thought this Karianna woman was your mother?” said Rylen, looking to Gail. “I mean I don’t want to sound lewd or anything, but you must’ve been more ‘developed’ by the time you were twelve years old than any Elven woman, or even most Human women, will ever be.”
“Well, I never thought she was my birth mother,” answered Gail. “I’ve known that my so-called ‘real mother’ was a Human woman for as long as I can remember. My dad never even attempted to hide that from me. But growing up, I always assumed that I took after my father. I mean I have the classic Elven frame; slenderer than any Human could healthfully be, as far as I ever knew -- until I met Jadia.”
“Yeah, but what about your --”
“Anyway,” said Jadia, “where’s Tif?”
“Hey Tif!” Llara shouted.
Tif sat up from her bed in the birdcage in the corner of the room, yawning and rubbing her eyes.
“Jadia!” the Pixie exclaimed, her wings instantly perking up. She walked over the wall of the cage and opened the door, and then flew out, her fluttering wings emitting a bright light. “Wait...” said Tif, hovering near Gail, “who the hell are you?”
“I’m Gail Rowan.”
“Nice to meet you, Gail,” replied Tif, landing on the table in front of her, setting herself down at a low spot in the heap of coins.
“Likewise,” returned Gail.