Red Riders of the Realms
At the turn of spring, the weather had already become unseasonably warm suggesting that along the base of the Dun Hills, the heavy snow fall of winter would be turning into an unwelcome thaw. Yet, Calyndra and Isuelt decided to keep to the recipe of their lives and departed with a caravan to Ordulin. For a reasonable price and a blessing from the goddess, Calyndra arranged for one of the caravan guards, a young man named Bryce Vildoreen, to continue on as their guide to Featherdale. And in only a few days, the travelers rode into sight of Darryn’s family farm. The fields still showed the stress of the passed winter but much worse than would be expected. Somehow the hue of the soil, which would commonly bear a rich golden brown tint, was dark, almost black, and moldy in appearance. The perimeter fences were broken down in several places and the nothing about the acreage hinted that a family with grown sons had maintained the land through the winter.
The group passed much of the land of Darryn’s family on their way to Isuelt’s family farm, and all along the way the land and fences showed neglect. In the distance off the road, the farm house from which Isuelt and Diamatte were evicted only a few months ago looked as if it had crumpled in the middle. Seeing that Isuelt appeared both perplexed and concerned over the state of her in-laws’ farm, Bryce rode up to the farm house to investigate. It did not take him long to return with an explanation for the unexpected state of the farm. From his brief investigation, it appeared that the roof of the home had collapsed under the weight of snow some time during the winter. Its inhabitants, from what he could tell, had been trapped inside under the weight and, to this day, they were still there, their rotting flesh, like the fields and the home, returning to the land.
Even after the disregard they had shown her, Isuelt did not hate her husband’s family and the description of their end upset her greatly. She jumped from the wagon in which they were traveling to run to the rescue of those she had once cared so much for but Bryce quickly stopped her, holding her tightly and whispering there was nothing that could be done now. Calyndra also comforted Isuelt and together she and Bryce got Isuelt back into the wagon and continued on to her family’s farm.
Unfortunately, the condition of its fields, fences, and the home itself was the same. When Isuelt saw the sunken roof from the road leading up to her family’s farmhouse, she broke down. Calyndra stopped the wagon and the guard rode up to investigate once again, returning with his head low and his face troubled. This time, Isuelt didn’t attempt to leave the wagon. Even though she wept uncontrollably, somewhere inside of her, behind the pain of loss, she knew that her cake wasn’t finished. She knew that she had more ingredients left and the recipe wasn’t complete yet. The group moved on toward Featherdale but before they reached the town, Calyndra decided they should stop. Isuelt had composed herself but was still very much shocked by what they had seen. As she rocked Diamatte slowly in the wagon, humming a soft, wavering lullaby, Bryce and Calyndra decided that it was prudent not to go into Featherdale with the mother and child. It seemed very un-neighborly of the dale folk to leave both of the family farms in such a state. Surely, someone would have stopped to visit or check-in on the families if they had not been seen for some time. From what Bryce could tell, the corpses had been there for at least several weeks and there was no clear explanation as to why no one would have discovered them. So, the two of them agreed that they should learn why the disregard for the lost families before they took Isuelt and Diamatte into the small town.
Calyndra remained with the mother and child in a small shady vale a couple of miles from Featherdale while Bryce rode into Featherdale. He went immediately to a trade shop to seek out information. He told the owner of his journey in and of the two family farms he had passed along the way. The shop-keeper quickly made a protective sign and told Bryce that the topic should not be discussed but, since the young man had seen for himself the result of evil curses and deceit, he could tell him at least a thing or two. So, after about an hour of the shop-keeper talking nearly nonstop about the ruckus involving Isuelt’s and Darryn’s families erupting during the winter, Bryce had decided he had enough information to share with his travel companions. He purchased some provisions from the shop-keeper and dusted the dirt of sunny Featherdale from his boots for good.
Bryce returned to Calyndra and Isuelt and relayed the story he had heard. It seemed that after Isuelt was banished, her in-laws immediately began spreading the tale that she had given birth to a half-elf child. The farm folk whom they told were informed that Clayne was witness to her secret meetings with an elf in the steppes of the Dun Hills and that they had found the poison she used to kill Darryn once he learned of her affair. They had fairly convinced most of the people of Featherdale of their tale within only a day of her being exiled. Of course, most of the dale’s people were outraged, not only at Isuelt’s deceptions but also at her family, who must have raised her without any morals whatsoever. A group of men marched on Isuelt’s family home and demanded an explanation for Isuelt’s actions from her father. This being the first time her father had heard the tale, he was himself outraged, not enough to question the story of Isuelt’s treachery, for who would deny the claims of Darryn’s family being the upstanding farmers they were (and the ones with the most land). Instead, her father proclaimed that he had raised all of his daughters (two of which he still needed to marry off) with the highest of morals. Therefore, the only explanation was that the elf involved in this love triangle had bewitched Isuelt so that she was not in her right mind. And surely it was done solely for the purpose of destroying the families involved. Oddly, this explanation of the unexpected fit well with the Daleland’s people, for as anyone knows, the enmity of the elves was behind many of the mishaps which befell them. And of course, what young girl could withstand the evil magic of the elves.
Although they knew some of the specifics of their tale to be false, Darryn’s father and brothers felt that surely the elves were responsible, as Clayne had previously convinced them, and so all agreed that if anyone was to pay, it would be the elves. According to the shop-keeper, the men in the two families, along with three other farmers, decided that in the middle of winter, they would find the evil, magic spell casting elf who had deflowered the young Isuelt and caused the death of Darryn.
A hunting party was formed and it began by combing the Dun Hills to the north. When no elves availed themselves, they traveled farther to the north to the outskirts of Cormanthor. Searching just within the borders of that dark forest, the posse happened upon two elves, a male and female, who were inexplicable captured by a noisy mob of farm hands. Perhaps, the shop-keeper had speculated, it was the age of the elves as each could not have been more than a child. Regardless, the farmers returned with their captives to the dale and begin an inquest to determine who the evil elf was that had brought them such misery. Of course, Bryce surmised from the story that several egregious steps were taken by the farmers in dealing with the elves. The first being, they actually went through with capturing the elves. The second, they captured elves from Cormanthor, one of the known homes of elves of a darker persuasion. And finally, they brought their prisoners back to their homes where they would easily be tracked. Not that it would have mattered if they executed the young elves on the spot and went on their merry way. Either way they had doomed themselves. Only by bringing the elves to their homes, they had doomed their entire families and the people of Featherdale as well.
So that was where the shop-keeper’s tale neared its end. For some reason Isuelt’s family along with two of Featherdale’s farmers had taken the female elf to their home for questioning while Darryn’s family and a single farmhand from down the road had kept the male elf at that home. The shop-keeper was informed by the only two survivors of the ordeal that within an hour of beginning their questioning of the elves, each of the homes were set upon by dark forces. The families were magically bound and their homes brought down upon their heads. The two survivors were members of the hunting party who were unrelated to either Darryn’s or Isuelt’s families. According to their version of the tale, they were each released by a group of extremely deadly and shadowy elves so as to relate the tale to all the people of the dale what the price of mucking around with the elves was. Oh, Bryce almost forgot that he was told, the bodies were left as they were because no clear thinking Featherdale farmer would ever go back out to those families’ homes. Such a thing would be unexpected.
Isuelt laughed. Not a frenetic, just one step past losing her mind type of laugh. No, just the soft laughter that comes from relief. “I guess they made devil’s food,” she said, and then added, “but mine is not finished yet.” And as she laughed, the tiny Diamatte cooed in her arms in tune with her mother.
Bryce agreed to not only see the two women and the child to Ordulin, but for an additional blessing of good fortune and a small percentage of any donations given to Calyndra for her ministrations, he would travel west with them, at least as far as Elturel. Calyndra had told Isuelt that she was taking Diamatte to that western city to meet with the High Priestess of the Rotarans. Calyndra was assured that the High Priestess would know precisely what path Diamatte should be set upon so as to fulfill her best possible destiny. Calyndra had read Isuelt’s signs and had known that the young mother had to return to Featherdale at least once, but she also knew that Isuelt’s path did not end there. So, she welcomed a chance to keep Isuelt and her daughter together for a while longer while each were marking the own roads to their destinies.
The early spring weather continued to mimic mid-summer throughout their trip west. The small group made their trek to Elturel along the Trader’s Road in the company of various large caravans that provided them security. Eventually after passing through some rough towns along the difficult Dusk Road, they eventually made it to the Dock District of Elturel. It was there that Diamatte’s future diverged from the destiny of Isuelt. She left her mother’s side without a fuss and instead with a soft melodic cooing. Ever since the day in the vale outside of Featherdale, Isuelt had discovered an unexplainable sense of joy in knowing that some good would come of her life, if only she used the ingredients properly. Her change in demeanor from a farm girl who let the world happen to her to a woman confident that she could make it in the world was not lost on Bryce. After having spent several weeks on the road with the women and the child, Bryce had grown to love the joy that seemed to come naturally to Isuelt now, in fact he had grown to love her. Although he did not know if she held any feeling for him, Bryce made a proposal to Isuelt, offering to remain with her and aid her in making a life for herself in Elturel. He stuttered that there was work in Eturel he knew of, and it would only make sense to pool their resources together, after all they might be able to…Isuelt stopped his rambling with a finger to his lips and said, smiling, “I want to open a pastry shop and I need a partner.” With that said and with loving goodbyes to Diamatte, Isuelt left Calyndra and her daughter to find her future with Bryce Vildoreen.
Calyndra took Diamatte to meet the High Priestess of the Rotaran’s on the following spring morning. The infant, only now three months old, was preternaturally aware of her surroundings, of the beautiful painting on Calyndra’s face, and of the sublime magnificence of the Temple of Sehanine located in the western end of the Dock District. The domed ceilings of the halls of the temple were transfigured from common stone to a representation of the heavens, where glorious stars, planets, suns, and moons traveled by some magical means slowly across the surface of the ceiling. Diamatte’s small eyes were transfixed and she burbled her pleasure at the splendid sight.
The High Priestess, Loralyn, met with Calyndra and Diamatte in a small chamber off of the domed halls of the temple. As Calyndra before her, Loralyn was awestruck by not only Diamatte’s features but also her bearing, which seemed so unlike that of an infant. And, once she saw the star marks along the energy points of the child’s body, she was stunned. She concurred with Calyndra’s assessment of the child’s star chart which she studied very carefully and then immediately decided that the goddess had brought Diamatte to the sisterhood so that she might discover the tools to maximize her destiny.
At that time, Diamatte became a charge of the Rotarans of Sehanine at the Elturel temple. Calyndra left Diamatte at the Temple, for her path lay out amongst the peoples of Faerun. But several priestesses, all as beautifully tattooed as Calyndra, took her place as significant people in Diamatte’s life. The priestesses were her caretakers and instructors and it remained that way for twelve years. During that time, Diamatte learned of the history of the universe and of Faerun, of the religions practiced within the realms, and many of the rituals of the Sehanine orders. Her body grew quickly and by the age of twelve she was already as tall as many of the priestesses. She also took to her lessons and her knowledge matched that of most of the sisters who had been devotees for as long. Hence, she was treated very much like an equal within the Temple.
Loralyn was not one of Diamatte’s regular instructors. In fact Diamatte was not permitted to interact with the High Priestess, even casually. However, Loralyn had carefully listed a short set of rules that her instructors told her she must obey. Unlike the rules imposed upon most children, these rules had nothing to do with cleaning up her cell or making her bed. Such things became a matter of habit in a cloistered environment where each person depended on another. Instead, the list contained three items marked with what seemed to be expiration dates. At the top of the list was “No carnal knowledge with men…or women, age 20,” followed by, “No vow to the goddess, age 16” and, “No magic, age 12.” Diamatte had never understood why the list contained only things she could not do or why at some age it might be all right for her to do them. Since one item on the list expired at age the age of twelve, Diamatte decided that she needed an audience with the High Priestess to understand exactly why these were things she could not do and what she was allowed to do once she had passed the specified age limit. However, the High Priestess had not spoken directly to her for over a year so she was not sure Loralyn would even see her.
Following a quiet birthday celebration where only Diamatte and one of her regular instructors, Rosaryl, shared a sweet pastry that the priestess bought in town, Diamatte asked if for a birthday gift she could speak with Loralyn. Rosaryl was her favorite instructor and was several years older than most of the other priestesses. Her star chart tattoos were not as intricate or as beautiful as many of the priestesses, most imposing was the social chart on her face with the Comet Dragonskrye crossing over the delicates lines of her Sun and Moon paths and, some of her tattoos had nothing to do with the movement of the heavens at all. She generally ran much of the operations of the Temple and could often be heard barking orders at neophytes. Yet she never raised her voice to Diamatte. And what endeared Rosaryl to Diamatte was the manner in which she treated the girl. Although physically she was every bit a woman, and more, Rosaryl’s flattop haircut and penchant for bitter smelling cigarillos gave her an appearance of an overweight sergeant of the watch. Diamatte often thought of her more as a kind uncle or even a grandfather than a priestess. She was always showing Diamatte magic tricks, which Diamatte knew were no more complex than slipping a coin conveniently under a fold of flabby skin. She could also make the mermaid tattoo, the one on her left arm directly below the word “MUM”, dance when she flexed her chubby biceps. Diamatte knew that Rosaryl cared for her and of any of the priestesses, she would get Diamatte a special audience with Loralyn.
Rosaryl agreed to do so but it took Diamatte giving half of her pastry to the burly woman. Within an hour Rosaryl had obtained the audience Diamatte sought and the two of them met Loralyn in her personal chambers.
The room was as simple as any of the cells in the Temple but it contained books, hundreds of books, stacked on the floor and stuffed into shelves on the wall. The High Priestess was dressed in a large night shirt rather than her official robs and sat at a small table with an ancient looking tome opened before her. Loralyn treated her guests very informally, offering Diamatte and Rosaryl a seat on her own bed. She wished Diamatte a happy birthday and asked what she would like to speak about. Diamatte came right out and said what was on her mind. No boys until twenty? Loralyn smiled and nodded. Diamatte asked why and got an answer she did not expect.
Loralyn explained that the list Diamatte had been given was not of things she could not do, in fact, it was a list of things she might do at certain times. Today, Loralyn said, Diamatte turned twelve and sometime after their conversation that night, she may begin to study the sources and powers of the arcane. The same applied to the other items on the list. At certain points in time, the things written there could occur but the stars did nothing more than suggest the possibility. Loralyn also stated that there was a much larger list, written by Calyndra many years ago. In fact, Loralyn stated that Calyndra had written both lists, the small one to service as a catalyst to specifically urge Diamatte to seek more information about what her future might entail. As a gift for her birthday, she was entitled to have it but with it came a warning. If she chose to take the list, she may forever be at odds with what is written upon it. For the items noted thereon detailed each possible choice that Diamatte would have an opportunity to make. And the predicament in having such knowledge was mistaking the markers along her destiny’s path with her destiny itself. For, Diamatte was marked by the stars and none knew what her future would be except for her.
Although she was a very intelligent young girl, knowledgeable in so many things at the age of twelve, Diamatte did not understand how possible events in her life could be marked but her future still be unknown. Loralyn explained simply that with people such as the priestesses, the stars describe the events that would occur in their lives and also generally how they would react to those events and where they might go from there. For Diamatte, there was no charting of the path she would take, no comment from the stars on whether, for instance, she would learn the powers of the arcane and if she did, whether she would use them for good or evil.
Finally, Diamatte believed she understood but she was unsure how she would use the information. She knew now that she could choose to learn magic, maybe later she would commit to a special relationship to Sehanine, and later still she might find intimacy. However, she realized immediately that knowing these possibilities could be perilous. With such knowledge she may find an item on the larger list that she would rather not experience or a choice she would rather not have to make, and that alone could cause her discontent. Maybe enough so that she would not feel any control of her life and, after what Loralyn had told her, she was born with the ultimate control over her own destiny.
Diamatte told Loralyn she did have one more birthday wish. She wished that the High Priestess would keep the complete list of her life events and never offer it to her again. She also handed the small list that for long she had mistaken for rules to the High Priestess. She said she did not want to know these things but would rather discover them herself. The High Priestess asked if that was all she wished for and after a moment, Diamatte made her first significant life choice, she asked if she could learn the powers of the arcane. Loralyn nodded and smiled gently. She told Diamatte it was time she moved forward with her destiny and away from the Temple.
Continued in – Slarenth