How can these Stone-dwellers stand it? There are so many of them, all crowded into these tight, rock-surrounded places. I am very uncomfortable where I cannot see into the distance. So many places for people to hide what they are doing from the sun.
Well, I'll just have to get used to it. If I am to serve the God I must learn to adapt. I have taken a room at an inn for the night. Tomorrow I will go to the temple and begin my training...
I can't sleep. This stone tent blocks the whisper of the breeze. I can't smell the freshness of the plains, only the stink of ale and unwashed bodies. I miss my home in the open spaces but I am sworn to the God. I must overcome my discomfort and get on with my chosen course.
I asked a beggar in the streets to direct me to the Holy Church of Ebu. Walking where he told me I was again uneasy with the way the buildings crowded together. One leaning against the next, looking like they would fall down without the support of their neighbor, marching endlessly down the street in tight formation. How does one get used to this?
The sun could barely penetrate the maze of wood and stone. People pushed and jostled each other just to make headway toward their unknown destinations. The overwhelming smell of a mass of people assaulted my nostrils. I was glad to reach the square on which the Temple stood.
Looking for the first time upon a Temple of Ebu, I was awestruck. It was the largest building on the square. The morning sun glinted off the stonework, seeming to give the carved sun-symbols of Ebu a life of their own. The doors were made of massive slabs of oak taller even than a tall man of 'The People'. They were decorated with carvings of the sun. I stood there, just breathing the relatively inoffensive air of the uncrowded square for a long time. Then, squaring my shoulders, I strode towards the big oak doors.
Inside the temple it was cool. A worship service had just started so I made my way through broad beams of sunlight to a seat near the front of the church. The service was different in flavor than what I was used to at home but, as all communion with my God does, it moved me beyond my ability to set down here. After it was over I asked one of the priests who had conducted the service to see someone about enlisting for training as a Holy Warrior.
The priest looked me over and then said, "I'm sorry but we are not recruiting for the service at this time. There won't be any openings for Warrior training for at least six months."
I couldn't believe my ears. Six months! There had to be a mistake! Ebu had spoken to me thirteen days ago. Through Twig, He again appeared to me and bade me begin my journey. Respectfully, I said to the priest, "There must be some mistake. I was sent here at this time to begin my training."
The priest looked at me again. The look was calculating and disbelieving.
"Who was it that sent you?" he asked.
My reply got quite a response.
The priest snorted and called to his fellow priests, "Hey, we have another hick who thinks Ebu sent her here to be a Holy Warrior. What makes you believe that you are worthy of serving Ebu as a Warrior?"
"I do not think I am worthy to serve the God. Not yet. But He thinks I will be."
This answer got quite a different response. The priests conferred.
"Tell us exactly how Ebu sent you here," said the spokesman.
I explained my vision of that High Day. The isolation I endured as a part of my passage into womanhood and the vision of light seeming to come from Twig. They asked many questions. I answered them all. They examined Twig.
"Come with me," the lead priest said.
I followed him through the church to the less public rooms. I was left in a small chamber with a desk and two chairs, one on either side of the desk. I waited in the sparsely furnished office for what seemed like a long time. When the door opened I found myself down on one knee.
My reflexes had me showing respect to a High Priest before my mind registered his presence. I had never seen a High Priest before. Here was a physical embodiment of my God on earth. I began to tremble.
"Rise, my child," rumbled the bass voice of the cleric. "Please, tell me the story you told my priests."
I repeated my story. At the end of it the High Priest made a strange gesture. I felt a tingling all over my body. The sensation passed quickly but the memory of the feeling lingers.
As my skin began to tingle I noticed the High Priest's eyes widen. He got a look on his face that I can't explain and he suddenly shouted for his aide to come in. The aide rushed into the room to see what the matter was. As the aide came to a stop in a defensive posture near the High Priest the High Priest spoke.
"Take this woman to the barracks and enroll her in the Warrior program immediately. I, personally, recommend her for Warrior training. She is to go through orientation and outfitting and then brought back here to meet with me."
Editor's Note: All entries made in this journal by Talae Coldfoot during her training period have been removed. Not all of the entries referred to in these pages were related to the training but for simplicity all were edited out. The Holy Church of Ebu is unwilling to reveal any of its training secrets, even accidentally. The "Day ____" references have all been changed and will commence as the number of days after Graduation.
This was the best day of my life! I am finally done my training and now I do feel worthy to serve Ebu. Torae and Chloe came to the special ceremony and banquet held in honor of the newest Holy Warriors. The feast was incredible. There was smoked salmon, and Lizzard livers. There were wines and ales from Seng. There were even three different chocolate desserts!
The biggest surprise of the day was not even that Torae had made the days long journey to see me graduate, but rather the graduation present that she brought for me.
When she asked me to walk with her after the dinner I thought that she only wanted to wish me well and maybe impart some motherly advice. As we walked, Torae talked of inconsequential things. How nice my hair looked plaited down my back. How confidently I walked through the crowded streets. How difficult it must have been to adapt to life in a city. It was pleasant conversation but not what I had expected from the woman whom I had learned to think of as my mother.
The chitchat served her purposes, however, because I did not notice where we were headed. By the time that Torae said that she had brought me a gift we were approaching the public stables in the upper-class section of town. I leaped to the conclusion that she had brought me a horse and started to protest such a gift.
"Talae," she said, "I have not brought you a horse. I could not afford to give you such a gift, even though it would serve you well. I have brought you something that brings with it a piece of myself. Also a piece of yourself. I hope that this gift will forever bind us together."
With that she led me into the stables. At the third stall she stopped.
"In here is someone you may recognize," she whispered.
I opened the stall door. This time the scaly face did not frighten me as it did all those long years ago, on the storm wracked plain.
"Whinny! No it can't be. Torae this wyvern is too young to be Whinney, but it looks just like her. What is her name?" I asked.
"She has no name yet. She is yours to call what you like. She looks like Whinney because she is Whinney's daughter. You cannot ride her in flight yet but she can carry a load and help you to defend the Faith. When she matures you will be an incredible fighting team." Torae says with pride in her voice. Pride for me; pride for my wyvern friend.
"I will call her Ice. Don't you think that suits her?"
Torae considered Ice before replying. Teal all over with no dark aspects to her skin, she was unusual in coloration. Most wyverns are dark.
"Yes, I think Ice is right for her. It also pays respect to your true ancestry. You are my daughter in my heart but you are not of 'The People'. You are Tribe. It is good to remember your roots."
Ah, there was the motherly advice, though I was too excited at the time to catch it. The rest of this night is a blur of happiness and celebration.
39th of Winterkill:
After a tearful goodbye to Torae and Chloe, with many hugs and 'I will always be a part of your life' sentiments, I made my way to the High Priest's office. I had been ordered to report there, hangover or no, by mid-morning. The spartan office no longer made me nervous as it had many times in the past. I was now a Holy Warrior of Ebu. I do not outrank a High Priest but Warriors are accorded a measure of respect. We've earned it!
'Avenger' Hawkins, the High Priest, came into the office. I quickly knelt and was as quickly told to sit. Not one to waste time, Hawkins came to the point quickly.
"Talae, I have an unusual assignment for you. An appointment to a church 'garrison', which is the usual first assignment for a Holy Warrior, is unavailable. You will be on 'special assignment' instead. You are to check in at the church in Thorn. A room is being held for you in the 'Last Stand Inn' and a man named Sumbahlin will contact you there. Do you have any questions?"
My mind whirled. Questions? Of course I had questions, but which ones to ask? Would I be working alone? Was the High Priest in Thorn aware of my assignment? Was I to report to him or directly to Hawkins? When was I to leave?
'Avenger' saw the confusion in my eyes and relented a little.
"Your mission is not secret but the details are unknown to me. All that I can tell you is that you will be teamed up with three people who are not 'of the Faith'. They are good people, and for a time at least, their purposes run with ours. Their names are Liulni Crea'vita, Leythan Nighthunt, and Antonio Villette. Liulni is elven and a mage. Her hair is silver and her eyes are jade. She works the 'Old Magic'. Leythan is an entry man, whatever that means. He is of average looks with brown hair and eyes. Tony is described as a Master of Shadows. Light brown hair and eyes make him nondescript but he tends to favor short sleeved shirts for some reason.
You will receive instructions from Sumbahlin. You need not report to anyone but occasional word of your progress would be welcome. You must leave now and travel quickly to Thorn to meet your new companions."
At this point Hawkins rose and offered Ebu's blessing to me. I was dismissed. I was confused. I obeyed my orders and left for Thorn.
40th of Winterkill:
After a little more than a day on the road I am still unenlightened as to my true mission. Ebu has not spoken to me as I had hoped. In fact, Ebu has spoken to me very little in the past six months. Twig has been only a sparrow. A very special sparrow, of course, but not supernatural.
Ice and I are becoming better acquainted on this trip. I am trying to teach her some simple tricks. She seems very intelligent. I think we will make a good team.
"Lean into her neck Talae," yells Torae, "you need to work as a team. Move as one. Whinney must feel you as an extension of her back, not as a burden."
It is the summer of my 14th year and I am getting better at riding a wyvern. I don't fall off anymore, which is good because Whinney now flies quite high off the ground with me, but my flights are not very graceful. I can't seem to get the knack of moving with my mount. I am frequently caught leaning away from a bank, and making Whinney compensate for my blunder. I am very glad that she is an experienced mount. It will be more difficult if I ever get my own wyvern to train. Until then I will practice with Whinney.
I look to my left and see a small copse of trees rushing up at me.
"You leaned into that turn fine but you need to concentrate on what you are doing. Or did you mean to drop down 500 feet?" asks Torae.
She's right of course. I yank my thoughts back to the present and finish the training pattern that we agreed on with no more mistakes.
After a flawless landing I wander to the steam to clean up. The song of the running water soothes me and my thoughts drift again...
The stream splashes at my feet as Ice drinks. My own wyvern to train... It will be more difficult than riding Whinney, but Ice is worth the effort.
42nd of Winterkill:
Not much excitement on this trip. I guess travelling with a wyvern, even a half-grown one, discourages thugs and bandits. Twig nearly got eaten; she twittered too close to Ice. I spoke sternly to Ice. I should be in Thorn in 4 or 5 more days at this rate.
47th of Winterkill:
Travel has been very easy and, frankly, boring. With no encounters with the likes of Slim and Scar I have made good time. I can see the walls of Thorn from here but I will camp so I can reach the city early in the day. My first stop will be at the Church.
48th of Winterkill:
Thorn is a very large town. There are two walls to protect its people. Both are over 30 feet high and made of stone. These stone dwellers sure do like to block out the wind and light and... openness.
The Church here is quite large and well appointed. The large oak doors stand open to welcome in worshippers. The priest that I spoke to was respectful and courteous. I reported that I would be at the 'Last Stand', an inn in town for a few days at least and could be reached there if any message were to come from Hawkins.
The 'Last Stand' is in the outer district of the city. I spoke to the innkeep about a room for me and stabling for Ice. He is a short, fat man with very little hair and a red nose. He told me his name was Jimbeno and said that I was expected and that Sumbahlin was paying the tab.
"Is Sumbahlin here?" I asked.
"No he's out at the moment but another of your party is here," said Jimbeno. He pointed out a medium height, very pale man.
I knew from the description that this must be Antonio, the Master of Shadows (whatever that means). I made my way through the crowded common room and introduced myself. Tony seems to be well educated and soft-spoken. I found myself rather liking him, even if he does have some strange beliefs about religion...
"What do you mean these strangers don't celebrate High Day!?" I exclaimed. "How can anyone not be thankful for the Sun which gives all things life?"
"Talae, not everyone holds the same beliefs that we do." Torae explained patiently. "These people believe that the 'Shadow' or the 'Great Shadow' is the Supreme Being in our world. It is not really so strange. They don't deny the importance of the Sun. They feel it would be unbearable for mortals to look upon the face of their God, and that all they can hope for is to see his shadow, thus the 'Great Shadow' is what they praise."
"But it's wrong!" I cried, "They must believe in the Sun."
"No one's beliefs are wrong. They are only useful or not. Good or not. Unless a belief is evil you must only recommend a change, not scoff or show outrage. Be gentle in the telling of your beliefs and some will come around to your way of thinking. Those that do not must be allowed their own ways, as long as they do no harm," counseled Torae.
"But how will I judge what is harm? How can I know evil so I can fight it?
"That will be up to Ebu to show you. You may not judge such things yourself," Torae replied. "Those that judge must be prepared to be judged. Leave things like that to Ebu. He will be your guide."
I spent the rest of that High Day celebration deep in thought.
I will work on Tony. He may come to be a believer yet!
49th of Winterkill:
The past few hours have been spent talking to Sumbahlin and Tony and getting to know the layout of the city. Sumbahlin is a Bhelah. This is a dark skinned race of people who were here when Thorn was 'annexed' by Kordar. They are pretty much considered Kordarians. The contrasts among the three of us must be extreme to anyone seeing us together. Two men - one very light, the other very dark – and a TALL woman. An odd group indeed.
The ale here is very good. And the common room is comfortable. We are sitting at a table near the fire. The heavy trestle table is in the corner of the room and gives a good view of anyone coming or going. I always feel more comfortable if I can see all around me.
Tony is an interesting man. Sumbahlin is interesting too... and frustrating. So far he has been very closed-mouthed about our mission. He insists that we must all hear it at the same time. I guess he means that we must wait for Liulni and Leythan. I hate waiting.
The waiting continues...After supper there is some distraction to be had. While Tony and I are having a discussion about religion we are invited to join a large group of well armed men at the next table. The men, it seems, are in some kind of association. They introduce us to their A.O.G.(Arm of God). Daymoo Quickfoot is about 50 years old. He is a Bheyla with silvering hair and a crooked nose. All of the men at the table seem to look up to him.
"So, Talae," he says " why have you become an A.O.G.?"
"Ebu has called me to serve," I reply "I will fight evil wherever I find it and help to make this world a better place. I am the chosen of Ebu. He spoke to me and commanded me to be his tool for the greater good of all mammalian kind."
"I see," he said in a cool voice.
We didn't talk much after that but I was impressed with the stories of the great deeds done by this group.
50th of Winterkill:
Waiting. Tony introduced me to his girlfriend/fiancée. Orlanda is a very beautiful woman. Her relationship to Tony is not clear to me. He says one thing, she says another. Oh well, it's none of my business. We all had lunch and made small talk. Orlanda obviously thinks the world of 'her Antonio'. If you listened to her you would think that he was personally responsible for the sunrise.
After a lunch of stew and praises to Tony we walked Orlanda home. Rather than staying at the inn Tony and his family had rented a small house nearby. I guess Orlanda felt that the children would be exposed to inappropriate things at the 'Last Stand'.
On the way back to the inn Tony and I wandered around the Outer District to find the shops that may be of interest to our group. We were just coming around a corner from the street of the leather workers when a woman rushed up to us. She was a Bhelah woman in her late 30's with stringy hair and odd eyes. She was very agitated and I assumed that she was in some kind of trouble. As I scanned the street for the source of her problem Tony spoke to her.
"What seems to be the trouble madam?" Tony asked.
"You must have your prophecy read!" she exclaimed. "For 4 coppers I will prophesy for you. It will save your lives!"
At this point I interrupted her sales pitch. "I do not need your prophesies, woman. I get my direction straight from Ebu Himself."
She seemed a little taken aback at this. She was, however, desperate to tell our futures. Tony finally managed to get us away from her with a few diplomatic but firm refusals.
The rest of this day was boring. I hate waiting. I wish Leythan and Liulni would get here.
1st of Rebirth:
Tony and I decided to try to find a good pawnshop this morning. It was a dark day. The kind of day that makes the city depressing even for the Stone Dwellers. I was positively gloomy. The streets that we walked to find the pawnshop seemed filled with filth from the emptying of night pots. The dogs seemed to fight more viciously over midden scraps. Dirty street urchins always seemed to be right underfoot.
I had just about had it for 'shopping' when a soldier stopped us.
"What is your business in the city of Thorn?" he asked us.
"I am a retired member of the 17th legion," replied Tony before I could say anything. A good thing too, I might have picked a fight in the mood I was in. "We are out looking at the shops. Say, have you seen Nathan Bell lately? He owes me money."
"No, I haven't see him. Could you tell me where you are staying please?"
Tony gave the soldier his address and also told him that I was staying at the 'Last Stand'.
After the soldier left I asked Tony if he knew what that was all about.
"Just a transient check, I think." He said. "The legions like to know who is in town and what their business is. It helps them to know what to watch for while they are keeping the peace."
With 'The People' this kind of 'policing' is unnecessary. Everyone knows everyone else. Although, when a stranger is among us they are watched closely. I guess it is the same sort of thing.
We finally reached the inn and I was just settling in for another afternoon of waiting when I saw a large group of people entering the common room. All of the young people coming noisily in off the street seemed to be well-to-do nobles with too much time on their hands. All that is, except for the focus of their attention. The young man at the center of the swirl of groping hands and lingering kisses matched the description I had of Leythan. An elven woman was hanging back from the group, trying to avoid their aggressive and frankly sexual advances. I assumed that this was Liulni.
Just as 'Leythan' settled into a chair with two willing girls on his lap, I pointed out the group to Tony.
"Isn't that Leythan?" I asked him.
"Where?" he said.
"Over there," I pointed. "Covered with women" One of the girls, by this time was gnawing on his ear while the other fondled his chest.
Tony glanced over. "No," he said. "It can't be him. He was not described to me as such a 'lady-killer'. At least not that way."
Just as Tony finished his sentence there was a loud exclamation from the 'Table of Debauchery'.
"Ehwww!," said one voice. "It's not them!"
"Yech, I kissed him!" cried another.
Very quickly all of the young 'well-to-dos' left the inn.
It turned out that the pair really were Leythan and Leu'lni. They had evidently been mistaken for Kinsa and Melu, whoever they are. We all introduced ourselves and agreed to meet for supper with Sumbahlin. At last I would find out my mission.
I went out to the stables to visit Ice while I waited for our meeting. Just as I was about to unlatch her stall I spotted Liulni. She said that she had a friend in the stables and asked if I would like to meet her. Her 'friend' turned out to be a saber tooth tiger named Savanah. What a beautiful beast she is, all tawny power and grace. In turn I introduced her to Ice. Then we introduced our beasts to each other. It seemed to be a wise thing to do if we all were to travel together.
After some initial skittishness on the part of both of our friends, they seemed to get along well. Ice nuzzled Savanah and Savanah sniffed Ice right back. I think Ice was not entirely comfortable with the big cat but took her cues from me and accepted her as a companion.
Well, supper is finally finished. Sumbahlin sits back and sips his ale.
"My Master, your patron, has no really specific mission for you," he begins. Great! The church sends me on a secretive mission and now it turns out that there is no mission. Ebu save us all!
"There are several options for tasks that you may undertake to maintain peace and order locally," Sumbahlin continues. "There is..." He drones on. My thoughts wander. Tony sits across from me looking attentive. To his right is Leythan. He sits quietly with a calculating look in his eyes.
Of the four of us, Liulni is the one paying absolute rapt attention to every word uttered by Sumbahlin. She seems to be listening for something specific. Seems odd to me, but she is an elf after all.
"Or, there is a village that needs your help to protect them from bandits." Sumbahlin's last sentence rouses me from my reverie. Well, beating on bandits isn't too bad. If I can't save the world in one grand mission in Ebu's name then I can at least send some brigands to their reward.
Details are worked out. We will spend one day shopping for supplies and leave for the village the following day. Action at last!
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