Red Riders of the Realms
Arrangements were immediately made for Diamatte to travel to the Reaching Woods where she was to receive a new form of instruction from an elf and ally to the Rotarans. Before she left, Rosaryl gave her a small bundle of letters written to her by her mother over the years. Isuelt had been allowed to freely communicate with Diamatte at will but had decided long before, after Calyndra had told her that her path was meant to diverge from Diamatte’s, it was best if she did not distract her daughter. Rosaryl explained that Isuelt had specifically asked that the letters be given to her daughter only when she left the Temple and started out into the world. Diamatte knew about her mother’s choice to leave her at the Temple, for Rosaryl had constantly spoken to her of Isuelt’s decision and how it was made so that Diamatte would have a secure upbringing. So, although Diamatte did not recall her mother’s face, she felt love for her and, seeing the bundle of letters that had been given her brought tears of happiness from knowing that Isuelt had kept her in her thoughts for all those years.
On a winter’s day where the Sun was hidden and an overcast sky threatened to blanket Elturel in a shroud of white, Diamatte left the Rotaran Temple of Sehanine. She was accompanied by two young priestesses who were only a few years older than herself. Yet even for their young age, Diamatte knew she was safe in their company for they each were adept at utilizing divine powers. As they traveled in their wagon through the Dock District, Diamatte read the letters her mother had left for her, beginning with the most recent first. It described how her husband, Bryce and Diamatte’s half-brother were away on a hunt and how lonely Isuelt was. The letter could only have been delivered a couple of days prior for in it, Isuelt wished Diamatte a happy twelfth birthday. Diamatte was overcome with a longing to see Isuelt, if only to capture and image of her face to keep with her other memories. So, she asked if either of the priestesses might know where to find her mother.
She was surprised to learn the priestesses knew her mother well. They told her that Isuelt Vildoreen was an ardent patron of the Temple and they would be happy to take Diamatte to see her before they set off on the Dusk Road. The group traveled through town toward the High District, eventually stopping in front of a small shop. A colorful sign hung above the door and on it was painted a three layer cake with stars bursting out of the top. The priestesses got out of the wagon and beckoned Diamatte to follow them. They entered the shop and a small bell jingled as the door opened. Inside, the storefront was a small receiving area with a counter along the left and back walls. All along the counter were platters filled with samples of pastries and on the open wall to the right were shelves upon which were skillfully painted, wooden models of various styles of cakes. The shop smelled of sweet cinnamon and everything on the sample plates was powdered or frosted in mouthwatering colors. Even the cake models on the wall looked delicious. Footsteps came to the door behind the back counter and in walked a fair-haired woman with flower spread all over the cheeks of her beautiful, tanned face. The woman stopped instantly upon entering the room. She looked at the priestesses, obviously recognizing their tattooed faces and then stared with her mouth open at Diamatte standing behind them.
It was clear she was stunned and that she knew who that face, with its high cheek bones, thin lips, and sharp chin, belonged to. Isuelt gave out a small cry of happiness and ran around the counter, throwing her arms around Diamatte and squeezing her close. Diamatte hugged her back and they stayed that way for a while. Eventually the embrace ended with both of them crying. Although Diamatte stood nearly half-a-foot above her mother it did not stop Isuelt from reaching up and tussling her curly black hair, spreading flower into her dark locks. Isuelt led them to the back of the shop where she gave them delicious tarts to eat while she and Diamatte shared the stories of their lives since they were last together.
Isuelt had married Bryce Vildoreen within only a few months of leaving Diamatte with Calyndra. Her life with him had been blessed and they both had thrived in Elturel. She with her bakery and he as a horseman with the Hell Riders. She had given birth to Diamatte’s half-brother, Tomas, ten years ago and the family was happy and healthy. Isuelt explained her reasons for staying out of Diamatte’s life but that she had never stopped loving and caring about her. She hoped that her daughter would forgive her if it ever seemed that she had abandoned her. But for Diamatte there was no anger, no resentment, over her life in the Temple. She knew enough now about the course of the stars to know that things were the way they were meant to be, at least for her mother. And she told her mother how well she was treated, how much she had learned, and how she was now embarking on the next leg of her path. They talked for hours but even though it was getting late in the day, the priestesses finally announced that they must move on. Mother and daughter exchanged loving words and hugs and promises to see one another again soon and, with so short of a time together, they separated once more.
Although their time together was brief, Diamatte felt full of the love her mother had for her and full of sweet pastries. She knew somehow that they would see one another again and she was comforted by the fact that she still had Isuelt’s letters so that she might revisit the day’s memory of her for a long time to come. The party left the city and traveled into the night until they arrived at a lodge along the Dusk Road. The priestesses assured Diamatte that the way they traveled was safe because of the protection the Hell Riders brought to the trade route. Though, they warned, that the way would become more dangerous the farther east they traveled.
After lodging for the night, the group set out once again. The winter had started softly this year and the road was clear for much of their trip. Within a couple of days, and without incident, they arrived at a cottage in the Reaching Woods.
The cottage was situated in a heavily wooded part of the forest where the tree canopy was so thick that none of the winter’s light snowfall had made it to the forest floor. It was set partially into a small earthen rise and ancient thick roots crawled down the exposed sides and front of the cottage. The priestesses let Diamatte out of the wagon and handed down her small pack of belongings. She had brought little more than some extra clothes and a few books she had wanted to study. Neither of the priestesses dismounted the wagon as they gave her quick goodbyes before spurring the horses to leave the woods.
With no one to introduce her to the elf ally of the Sehanine priestesses and, standing all alone outside of the elf’s cottage, for one of the first times in her life Diamatte felt unsure of her course. She stood staring at the very old tree that seemed to sprout out of the top of the small home and at its dark roots which appeared as if they were about to forever choke closed the cottage’s front door. Yet regardless of the thick, mysterious atmosphere of the surrounding woods, and the uncertainty of the future ahead, Diamatte felt a calm coming over her. Somewhere there was a list of the events that could occur in her life and just knowing it existed reassured her that no matter what happened next, there would be more to come.
Still, she wasn’t entire sure what to do next. Strangely, Loralyn had not even told Diamatte the name of the elf she was to meet. She had given her an envelope to deliver when she arrived at the cottage but with strict instructions that it was only to be read by the elf. That was it then, Diamatte decided. She would approach this as a messenger, offer delivery of the letter, and wait for its contents to be read. Surely Loralyn and had included instructions for both her and the elf and everything would work out fine.
She approached the cottage and knocked on the door. There was no answer, and after knocking several times, Diamatte decided that the occupant was not home. She looked at the small travel package she had brought. It contained very little. Nothing that would help her survive even a mild winter’s journey to a town or village. And she really wasn’t sure which way she would go if she had to try to find her way back to Elturel. She had spent much of the wagon journey reading her mother’s letters and one of her books so she didn’t pay attention to the way they had traveled to the woods. She had no experience with being in the wild, in fact, she had no experience with being anywhere except with the walls of the Temple.
The forest was becoming darker and colder. The cottage door looked inviting and Diamatte knew that inside there would at least be some comfort from the night. But just as she decided that she would try to open the door and seek some warmth, something deep inside of her stomach twisted, causing a chill to come over her entire body. She backed away from the door, which now seemed not inviting but threatening. The twisted roots running down its side, the darkening forest shadowing the entrance, all became a warning to her not to invade the home. As she stepped back even further a voice softy spoke from behind her, “That was a wise choice human child.”
Diamatte started and spun toward the voice, raising her travel package in front of her protectively. But there was no one there. Stammering, Diamatte announced who she was and that she had been sent by Loralyn, High Priestess of Sehanine to deliver a message. The voice, still disembodied but seeming to come from only a short distance away, responded, “But I suppose the wisdom ends there for you assume things are known only to you and not to me as well.”
And with that statement, a form appeared to materialize from the darkness directly in front of Diamatte. It was darkly cloaked figure, about the same height as Diamatte, its head and face hooded. “I know of your message, of its contents, and of the one who bears it,” the figure said, “Welcome, Diamatte. You have taken many years to come to me.”
The figure moved a few feet closer to Diamatte and pulled back the hood, exposing a long, thin elvin face. Diamatte had seen pictures of elves before in her books. The face before her was finely sculpted, smooth and ageless. It was a male and his piercing blue eyes looked deeply into Diamatte’s. He introduced himself as Slarenth and, after exorcising the wards on the entrance of the cottage, he invited Diamatte inside. Slarenth’s cottage was warm and small. Diamatte presented Loralyn’s message to him but Slarenth told her to keep it, unopened, until he asked for it again. And, without any explanation or prefaces, Slarenth pointed to some bread on a small table and told her to eat. He then pointed to alcove in the wall of the cottage and simply stated she would sleep there. He then left her alone, retiring through another door in the back of the cottage.
Diamatte was accustomed to the instruction of the priestesses which didn’t allow for much in the way of debate. So, she felt well prepared to receive any instruction from Slarenth unquestioningly. And after her first night in the cottage, she was sure that she would learn of the arcane in the same manner she had studied religion and history, through dedicated study, research, and mainly memorization of key material. However, she eventually found that though Slarenth gave practical, concise orders to her regarding everyday tasks, such as how to prepare meals for each of them or when to clean the area of the cottage she inhabited, while instructing her in the arcane he encouraged her to question everything.
Following the first night she spent in his cottage, Slarenth immediately introduced her to the natural magic of the forest, showing her both the wonderful powers of the creatures there and the evil tendencies of many of them. To each magical event she was introduced, Slarenth asked that she explain to him why it should be so. Diamatte learned that there was no answer that Slarenth would consider wrong or right and that she should not seek to find a quick answer to any of his questions, but instead the answer that seemed most appropriate to her. Slarenth was never judgmental of her answers but regularly asked her to consider taking more time to come to a response she not only thought was right but felt was right. And thus, Slarenth immersed her in a world where magic occurred each day.
For four years, Diamatte slept in the small alcove of the cottage, cooked meals for herself and Slarenth, and witnessed magic of all types under the attentive eye of her teacher. Throughout that time, Slarenth never gave her instruction in how to tap into any powers and strangely, Diamatte never thought to ask when she might learn how to perform any of the things she had seen. But shortly after her sixteenth birthday Slarenth announced that he would be willing to teach her how to use magical powers but only if she was sure of which path to power she wished to embark on. She had come to understand natural and divine powers, and arcane and ritual powers. Slarenth had guided her to witness many of these things and even personally demonstrated some of his powers to her. Diamatte was certain that she wanted to learn how to do many of the things she had seen herself but was unsure how Slarenth expected her to proceed. She asked Slarenth how he had made his decision to study magic to which he simply responded that since it was only a thing to ask oneself, he could be of no help. Yet, he said that when he was unsure which part of himself to ask, he had sought counsel from Sehanine.
So, Diamatte spent several days in prayer and meditation, seeking guidance from the goddess. Her many years of study of the goddess had caused her to feel an affinity to Sehanine, even though she had studied all of the major deities and the religions devoted to them. During her meditations she had a vision, a vision of the stars moving through the heavens. She knew all the names of the stars she saw, she felt their power as they travelled among one another, influencing one another. And in her vision, she saw herself travelling along a path among the stars. She knew that she could choose whichever path she desired and did so in her vision. During her vision it became clear to her that her path was one to be decided by her and not anyone else and that Sehanine advocated that all seek their own best futures using the ingredients they are given. Immediately after her vision, she dedicated herself in prayer to Sehanine, vowing that she would use the stars as her guide her best possible destiny. She told Slarenth of what she had seen and of her commitment and without questioning her, the elf began to instruct her in using her existing knowledge of the stars to harness and use arcane power.
Her studies continued with Slarenth for another four years. Instead of simply showing her the powers around her, Slarenth showed her how she could use power to affect the world. However, Slarenth did not rush her learning. She had spent her entire time with Slarenth never venturing from the kitchen and her small alcove into the rest of the cottage and after she made her decision, he allowed her into an intermediate room within the cottage. He escorted through the only interior door leading from the front of the cottage into the room which was full of ancient tomes. The library contained generations of history, thousands of pages of religious text, and great volumes on astrology and the other realms. Slarenth required that she dedicate most of her new learning on study and understanding how the use of power changes destinies and changes its users.
At the age of twenty, Diamatte had mastered only a small number of arcane skills but, she had become fluent in the philosophies underlying the use of power. She had not celebrated a birthday since her last day in the Temple of Sehanine. But on that day, Slarenth surprised her by wishing her a happy birthday. He announced that it was time for him to do some travelling and that she was welcome to stay and watch after his cottage or to do as she pleased. The announcement came so abruptly, Diamatte realized she had not prepared herself to make such a decision. Yet, from her study, she knew that everything comes at its appointed time and that she had the power to give those moments worth. Slarenth and Diamatte shared one last meal together that evening, Slarenth having made plans to depart on the morning. Diamatte was less sure about her own departure and where she would go but was certain she would also leave very soon. Slarenth requested that Diamatte give him the message that Loralyn had asked her to deliver many years before. Diamatte retrieved the aged envelope from her small pack of personal items while Slarenth excused himself, going into the back of the cottage.
Diamatte sat with the envelope in her hands at the small dining table in the kitchen. She turned the letter over in her hands and noticed for the first time that it had her name written on it. She had never examined it before, or at least had never noticed any name written on it. Slarenth returned with two plainly wrapped packages in his hand. Diamatte started to ask him about the envelope but he put his finger up to his lips. “When you came here, you were young.” He said, “And as a human, even a child can forget to see the world as it really is, choosing rather to see it as you think it should be.”
“Since then, you have learned to look at the world, first to observe and then to judge what you have observed,” Slarenth continued, setting the packages down in front of Diamatte. “The message was always for you but only for when you could see that it was. And these,” he said indicating the packages, “are for one who has learned to see.”
Slarenth sat with Diamatte and urged her to open her packages. She chose one which was long and thin first. She carefully tore away the wrapping to reveal a beautifully crafted wand made of a silvery colored wood. She could feel energy radiating from the wand, an energy that seemed improbably attuned to her. After she had studied the wand for a while, Slarenth asked her to open her other package. Diamatte put down the wand and picked up the small, round package Slarenth had given her. The moment she ripped the package open, she smelt sweet cinnamon. Inside was a fresh pastry, frosted in rich cinnamon. Diamatte realized instantly that it would have to be one of her mother’s pastries. She smiled at Slarenth who smiled back for the first time she could recall and appeared that even with his dark, elvin skin, he was blushing as well.
“I think you know what to do about with these gifts,” Slarenth said, his smile remaining. Then he gestured to the worn envelope sitting on the table, “Will you know what to do with that?”
Diamatte carefully opened the letter. She instantly recognized the script as being the same as the one used to compose the short list of “rules” she had questioned Loralyn about when she was twelve. It was from Calyndra. She read it and smiled.