On the nature of Fear

Corbin Jumped down from his hiding spot in the canopy and set to continue after the fleeing stag on foot. He chased the wounded beast with determination and fervor, his arrow still protruding from it’s hidequarters. A voice in his head told him this was foolish, that chasing wounded prey off the paths and into the underbrush would be dangerous and risky. He knew better then this, but still refused to let his prey escape. A second arrow leapt out from his bow, striking the panicked beast in the neck. This seemed to do the trick, and the beast crashed into the underbrush before falling to the ground. A moment later he catches up to the stag, and gives it the quick death he failed to provide with his first or second shot.

Even just a year ago he would not have left his hiding place in the canopy to give chase. Rather he would have merely cursed his foul luck and allowed the beast to flee off into the mists. The difference, he mused, was his relationship with fear. He had always been careful. Cautious, and warry. Fearful and respectfull of the power that slept within this forest. He knew better then most what was actually in these woods, and a healthy dose of fear had kept him alive through the many, many trials faced living within them. Truthfully, it had always felt more like prudence and respect for the dangers of the wood then outright fear. But recent events had forced him to re-examin his hesitations. And their sources.

After a quick look around to confirm he was not in immediate danger, he started working on the stag before him. Field stripping it and preparing it for transport would take some time, but it was large enough to feed many hungry mouths. It was a really fortunate kill. His hands moved with deft skill the practiced movements he had done a hundred times before. His mind wandered once more.

As a boy, mother had often lamented that he could stand to have more fear. The dark didn’t scare him. Monsters didn’t scare him. Falling out of a tree and breaking his arm barely slowed him down. He had reveled in tales of gallant heroes and brave generals of far away lands, often declaring his intention to one day take his place among them in history.

My how things had changed.

Watching his mother grow ill, frail, and eventually pass away was his first real taste of fear. The hopelessness in his father’s eyes as together they watched her sickness progress was something he had never seen before. The seed of fear was buried deep in his heart the day his mother died. It sprouted and grew in his heart as he watched his sister soon fall to the same sickness. By the time his father began to succumb to the sickness, it had fully blossomed, and the cold tendrils of uncertainty and despair had found deep roots in his heart.

As one by one his whole family succumb to plague and death, he could do naught but watch and despair. When the specter of death was finally finished, it left him alone amidst the ashes of all he once held dear. There in that quiet, empty, loneliness was the biggest fear of all.

At the time he claimed it was a desire for a ‘fresh start’ that spurned him to act. But in truth it was just common fear. Horrible unsurmountable fear of losing anything more caused him to flee his friends and distant relations. Caused him to step into the mists and become lost.

Fear in the forest of mists soon played a very different role in his life. He learned quickly enough that traveling through the depths of the wood were far more dangerous than anything he had ever faced prior. Here there was much to be warry of. Fear became his cloak and wrapping it about him kept him safe and alive in a world all too full of hunger and darkness. His father taught him to track, his fear taught him to be silent. His mother taught him how to find the edible fruit, and fear taught him when not to risk exposure just for a full belly. Ghosts haunted his every step, and delighted in tormenting him, sometimes causing him to run in terror for nights on end.

The stag was coming apart nicely, almost easily under his skilled hands and sharp blade. It was sectioned, bound for transport, and would be ready to haul home in only a few more moments. The smell of blood was already on the wind and would soon draw the attention of any number of unpleasant beasts. Still, his mind could not help but wander as his body moved about its work.

“LIES…lies…liiess…. Tell us manling. What do you really WANT?” The voice of the elf Struk him like cold steel, piercing deep past his pious and deferent guise. It saw past his fear, past the air of false reverence he usually hid behind. Anger surged within him, as he strained against the truth buried in his heart. He was tired of false deference, of bowing to the powerful and cruel just to avoid their wrath. Tired of being unable to help his friends and family face the dangers that plagued them. He was tired of being afraid.

He cried out in pain as the scales and hardened chiton erupted from his body at the Elf’s touch. His flesh ached and his body strained, but his mind was sharp and ready. Finally, he would not have to risk getting himself killed to help his friends. Now he had nothing to fear but…her disapproving stare.

Shaking that thought away he quickly got back to the present. Most of the trail back to town was blessedly downhill, so the trip would be easy. He hefted his prize over his shoulder and quickly fled the area. The Elves mystical protections were long since gone and he was back to being just as vulnerable as before. In truth he had been a monumental fool for accepting it in the first place. Clearly there would be more consequences further down the path, but he would meet them head on. The taste of brief immortality had left him in high spirits, and he was starting to take more and more chances in his daily life. The fear had loosened its grip on his heart ever so much, and he was running with it.

“Isabel isn’t here.” Lunette sobbed in his memory. The words rung in his mind like a bell shattering a perfect silence. His steps faltered, and a chill shot down his spine forcing him to shudder. That simple phrase introduced him to an entirely new fear. One he never would have conceived himself vulnerable to. It wasn’t a fear of death, nor a fear of pain, or loss. It was the fear of living in a world without her. A fear so strong he turned around and walked back into the literal realm of death and suffering to prevent it. Like most things in his life, he was a monumental fool for doing it, and only caused more trouble in the attempt then he solved. But he also knew that he would do it again without hesitation if he had to.

Seems fear still had its grip firmly on his heart after all.

The Seat of Sacrafice

“Take me instead.”The words echoed in Corbin’s ears, days, weeks after they were spoken.
“They are more important than I am. Let me do this.”

His hands clawed into the soft earth, looking to pull away the dirt and soil that surrounded the chunk of usable iron ore.

How quick we all are to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others, he thought. Not that he could blame them. We all do that grisly math at some point in our lives. The more dangerous things become, the more often we are forced to make those hard choices: Who will live and who will pay the debt. Who will walk the path, and who will be the one to hold the line for the next several centuries. 

‘Saint Gabriella’ could just as easily have been Saint Isabel, or Saint Cadence. Who’s to say they still won’t be. And who would he be to tell them not to them not to?. Henri thinks it’s his destiny to die fighting Coropler. How many other people are starting to think the same? and how quickly will those prophecies become self fulfilling given half a chance? Half the circle was already falling over themselves to sacrifice themselves in order to save one of their own, let alone the rest of town. None of them thought to try to settle the debt some other way.

Corbin grunts in frustration as the small chunk of iron ore he was working to remove continues to thwart his efforts by refusing to budge. Back on his butt he goes to wipe his dirty hands off on some nearby brush and reconsider his approach.
Sometimes you just have to pay the blood debt. Make the choice of who lives and who dies. The Stag dies to feed the town. The Trees die to make the wood we need to stave off the cold. Sometimes it’s an easy trade, sometimes it’s not. He knows whose life he would sacrifice his own for. There wasn’t even a question.  
After all the recent fun at his expense, just thinking of her was enough to make his face flush and push him back into the battle against this stubborn hunk of rock. Maybe if he chipped away at the far side? It still refused to budge even a little.

“No” he finally says to no one in particular, after a long contemplative silence of wrestling with the stubborn earth. “We can all face the coming trials with our heads held high, but no more martyrs. Either we all survive, or we all burn.” It was adorably naive and he knew it, but for just a moment he was content to let Sophie’s infectious optimism take over. 

This rock wasn’t budging. He had no way of knowing it wasn’t the scrap of easily accessible ore he thought it was, but was actually the tip of an impossibly large boulder buried much deeper. As such, the perfect metaphor was lost on him when he eventually gave up – assuming the earth just wasn’t going to give in on this day. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Conversations with myself.

Corbin left the tent briskly, pulling his hood up and over his head to protect him from the cold drizzle that this afternoon had brought. He pulled the sides of his coat closer to him, cursing the lack of waterproofing on the sides of the thing. It was his own fault, after all, there should be plenty of beeswax from Linette. He just had gotten too busy with other things to actually mix it with the oils and then apply it to his cloak. The thickness would keep him warm until the drizzle soaked it through. Once soaked through, any semblance of warmth it provided would fade, and it would only be a hindrance. He had maybe a couple of hours before that happened so he quickly made his way under the canopy of the forest.

“You have questions?” a small squeaky voice chirps inquisitively in his ear. The sudden surprise of it makes Corbin nearly jump out of his skin in panic. But really, it’s not something that should have come as a surprise in the first place: The spiders had been talking to him for months now. Ever since the emissary arrived at the gathering in the woods that night.

“Y..Yes. About the Knight.” He hated spiders. They were creepy little crawly things that tended to get everywhere and he could never tell which ones were going to bite and which ones were not. They were creepy and skittery, and generally just made him uncomfortable whenever one was around. Sure, it wasn’t their fault they were creepy. Spiders played a vital and important part in the health of the forest by keeping the more dangerous insects at bay. He just wished they would do their jobs…. over…there.

“The darkness is good, it hides us.” the voice responds while Corbin represses yet another shiver from running down his spine. He had sorta walked into that one. Of course, the spirit wouldn’t immediately know what a Knight was, at least without more specificity and context.

“N..No. One of the Cruzemore’s men, one of their soldiers, their knights. P..people say he started acting weird once the spiders got into his head. Made him do some really bad things. Can you tell me about that?” Corbin didn’t really want to know if the spiders had driven the man to torture and kill people. He didn’t want to be involved in this discussion at all, but someone had to. Someone who would be able and willing to speak to the spirits and hear what they say needs to be involved in the discussions. If this spider queen really was a Vacatran Crone, the circle needed her. His people needed to help her, and any other members of the faith who might still yet live in her lands.

The silence stretched on for much longer than Corbin felt comfortable with. Not that there was anything even remotely comfortable about the situation, to begin with. He had almost convinced himself that the little messenger had taken his request and left, possibly to go get the answers he sought. His heart had even just started to calm down when the tiny voice spoke again, making him flinch a second time.

“We did what was necessary to guide them through the Mists. It took all we had to do this.”

A perfectly appropriate answer from a spirit. Not a ‘yes’, not a ‘no’, and something each side could interpret to support their original arguments.So pretty much no help at all. If it were a person he could accuse them of dodging the question or being obtuse, but spirits were just like that sometimes. Expecting a depth of understanding of the complicated social nuance of intent and evil was a lot to ask of a little spider whose whole world was about weaving webs and trapping insects for lunch.

“Umm… Thanks” he says finally. “I will leave some of my next hunt at the house in the grove for you.” Just because the information wasn’t particularly useful didn’t absolve the need for payment. That was a lesson hard to learn long ago. Silence followed, and Corbin lied to himself that he was probably alone again. In truth, he knew deep down that he was never really alone anymore, but admitting to that was not something he was ready to do just yet.  

The inevitable turning point

Corbin left the tent briskly, his emotions roiling under a thin façade of calm. He knew this day would one day come, and he was no better prepared for it now than when he first realized it was inevitable all those years ago.

“I thought I would have more time…” he muttered to himself. It was another lie. He’d known for years now that it was only a matter of time until Isabel swore her oaths and became an official priestess. Hell, the only thing that actually surprised him is that it had taken this long already. A small part of him had always hoped he could talk her out of it, but that would be like talking the trees into growing sideways instead of up.

So, he did what he always did when his emotions were too much for him. He ran away into the woods to gather things for the town. Hunting always calmed him. It allowed him to be alone with his thoughts in the cold uncaring murk of the forest. The forest didn’t care if he was happy, sad, scared, or furious. It simply was, and it always sang to its own rhythm and pulse.  He could lose himself in that pulse; get swept up in the currents of the winds, in the trails of the game, and in the simple repetitions of scavenging.

Isabel taking vows had been a foregone conclusion. An inevitability he had been dreading, but by no means unexpected. Sophie Joining at the same time was a surprise, but only in that way that you are surprised the soup fresh off the fire is too hot to eat right away. They were both doing what they thought was best to help serve the town, and really, they probably were. They were not wrong in perusing their ambitions, in following the love within their hearts. And who was he to tell them not to?

He had already shifted his pace and posture and arrested his breathing before he’d even consciously noticed the freshly left pile of deer droppings. Judging by the size and texture, there was a buck nearby and upwind of him. The hunt was on.

Memories flooded his mind in the stillness of the forest. With each cautious step towards his prey, another story from his childhood played itself over again in his mind. Stories from his mother, about the dangers of talking too freely about the old ways and traditions. Names of relatives and friends from long ago who were persecuted and killed for their bonds to the forest and the ways of Vacatra. Warnings against going to those who wear thelion for help or trust, lest the whole family be put to death. Over the course of his entire life, he had never once seen a member of the lion faith harm a member of the circle in the way his mother’s stories recounted. Still, he knew the old stories to be true, and they haunted him all the same.

The buck was grazing in a small clearing just beyond the next bush. He leveled an arrow at the beast and aimed to shoot it in the neck. It would be a clean kill with as little pain as possible, and they would eat well tonight. His breath hung in his chest as he lined up the shot and held for just the right moment.

“That wouldn’t be Isabel though, right? There is no way she would ever hold his family’s connections to the spirits against him like that, would she?” he thought. His breath exhaled. The arrow loosed and smacked loudly into the great oak tree just behind the buck. The sound startled the beast who took off with a start and a grunt of fear. Corbin watched in dismay as his prey disappeared into the underbrush, likely never to be seen again.

“Yeah. I didn’t think so.” He muttered to himself.

A story told to the local Vacatran circle

I….Have a story to tell. Truth be told I would rather I didn’t, but I heard too many of the important bits not to share them.

I will start kinda early, with the spider webs we found on the banks of the river. There were a lot of them, and they were spinning some very fine silk for those talented enough to harvest it. We didn’t think much of it till the new fancy noble lady from up north came to town. She is creepy and a little bit spider themed, and anyone who met her doesn’t really trust her for a lot of reasons, some reasonable, some maybe less so. Anyway, her retinue made it through the mists to come marry off her daughter to our local Lord’s Son. She’s got her eye on taking over, and everyone seems to believe it’s a done deal except for all the little details. Anyway’s there is a whole lot of politics and Noble jibber-jabber surrounding this I won’t pretend to understand.

But what did stick out to me was something her handmaiden said. She told me the reason they made it through the mists at all is because the paths were COVERED in spiders. So long as they walked with the spiders they were fine. But if they strayed too far from them…things.. would reach out and try to grab them. And whenever she slept, she woke resting her head on a nest of spiders. They still had a rough time making it through the woods, and lost a good many of their numbers to bandits and other dangers, but the main reason I bring it up is because the spiders didn’t hurt anyone, and actually made sure they got here in one piece.

Again, when I heard this, I didn’t think much of it other than the nightmares I might be having later. Fast forward to the big party in the woods that night, where several of the local spirits and Standing People showed up to celebrate with us and share some of the forests bounty. One of the folks who showed up was a giant spider..man…thing? It had glowing red eyes, lots of spiders crawling on and around him…. It was dark and I was glad not to see him too clearly, but he…it… was quite polite and openly friendly. He let us know that he was the herald/messenger of his mistress, The Weaver. The Spider Queen, The Crone of the swamps to the north. Her story is that she was a mortal woman, who joined with a giant spider spirit long ago, to become something more than either.

He was sent to let us know a couple of things; First that his mistress is the one who is trying to pull some strings to arrange the marriage of the fancy noble lady to our local lord. Apparently she is The Weaver’s great, great, great…an a few more ‘greats’ beside…distant daughter or nice or some blood relation. The Weaver wants the Mists we have here that protect us and shelter us, to also protect her and shelter her and her lands too. The only way to do that is to make both lands, one land. Hence the marriage.

Now I tried to learn more about this ‘Weaver’ and aside from being a mortal born, part spirit person, the herald also claims she is a Vacatran Crone. He..it.. says she knows many of the old rites and wants to share them with us and ours. He wanted to know why we only had a mother, and not a crone to guide us and wanted to help teach our mother more rites that he might otherwise have lost. He told us his mistress wants to widen the lands the standing people have dominion in, and allow them to walk among her lands in the way they do ours. She knows the nobles in her lands are Banalian, and hopes that the mists will help encourage the people of her lands to go back to the old ways of Vacatra. The Herald promised his mistress would help spread the Vacatran faith in her lands and implied that maybe if we wanted to worship her in our lands we could also do that…but that sounded a little suspicious to me.

Now I know what you are thinking: What did the Standing People have to say about all this? Well, both me and the herald tried to get them to weigh in one way or another, but the three that talked about it all said it was our decision. One agreed that it would be nice to have more room to walk in, but that it was not in their nature to want or not want it. They simply were. If the lands are joined, there will be more land, and if they aren’t then they will still be here. The herald tried to ask Brother Gorse to bless and confirm the…. wedding, but until they were actually together, he said it was not his place to interfere, one way or another. I thought maybe just seeing how they reacted to him being there at all would tell us if they approved or disapproved of him and his mistress, but they treated him like any other party guest, showing neither favor nor concern.

The last thing that the herald wanted us to know is that his mistress can, and wants to help us with our sin. He claims she can take our sin from us, wrap it up in her webs and then destroy it with her venom, leaving us cleansed, and the sin destroyed. Also said a whole lots of creepy stuff about spiders being spiders, but there wasn’t a whole lot that really stuck out as being anything but what you would expect when talking to a giant spider….thing.

So that’s my story. I won’t pretend to know the truth of this ‘Weaver’ or her intentions, but that’s what her Emissary said, as best as I can remember it for now. I know we all have some…concerns about the noble lady herself and what her being here means for the town, but I think that’s an entirely different matter then deciding what the circle wants to do about the Weaver. Should we do as she asks, and help join our two lands? Or should we not trust that she is actually a Crone of Vacatra, and oppose her plans? Do we even think having a Crone nearby is a good thing? I don’t know. But we are going to have to talk about this as a group, and ask Chevreuil for all the wisdom he can give us on this matter.